Three Hamptons residents were charged Tuesday with running a confidence scheme targeting senior citizens, promising victims millions of dollars in sweepstakes winnings in return for a total of $695,000 for supposed taxes and fees, officials said.
One of the alleged operators of the scheme, Ana Leon, 50, of East Hampton was arrested Tuesday morning by FBI agents and charged with mail and wire fraud, officials said.
The two others charged with mail and wire fraud are Sandra Leon, 47, of Hampton Bays, Ana Leon's sister, and Ivan Pelaez, 51, of East Hampton, according to court papers.
Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley King said in court that the two are being sought but are believed to have fled the country.
Ana Leon was held without bail as a flight risk by Magistrate Steven Locke at the federal U.S. District Court in Central Islip. She was not required to enter a plea.
Leon holds dual United States and Costa Rican citizenship, has two sons living in Costa Rica, and has made 40 trips there in recent years, officials said.
"The defendants enriched themselves by taking advantage of elderly Americans," said Kelly Currie, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, in a statement.
The three helped defraud at least seven seniors in the scheme in which the victims were contacted by phone or mail and told they had won as much as $3.5 million in purported sweepstakes, according to the court papers.
The sweepstakes were supposedly overseen by federal agencies such as the Government Accountability Office, the papers said. To claim their winnings, the victims were told they would have to first send funds to cover taxes and fees to post office boxes or bank accounts the defendants had set up on Long Island and in Manhattan, officials said.
None of the seven victims, who were not identified, are from New York. The victims range in age from 69 to 90 and live in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin, the papers said.
Officials and the court papers did not say how the defendants allegedly chose victims.
In one case cited, an 82-year-old Utah resident was initially told he or she had won second prize of $1.5 million in the sweepstakes run by the "US Liberty Sweeps," a "government agency," the papers said. The victim sent in $45,700 in purported fees and taxes.
The Utah resident was then told the first-place winner was disqualified and the victim had won the $3.5 million first prize. The victim then sent in an additional $52,500 for fees and taxes, the papers said.
King and Leon's attorney, federal public defender Randi Chavis, declined to comment after the hearing.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison.