A man arrested in Bowling Green after police uncovered a scam that defrauded at least 19 elderly victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison.
Joasch Charles, 33, a Canadian national living in Atlanta, was sentenced in U.S. District Court on a count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Charles pleaded guilty to the charge, admitting collecting packages of money that were mailed to addresses of vacant homes in Bowling Green.
The money came from people who were contacted over the phone by scammers who persuaded them to send the money on the belief that it would help bail loved ones out of jail, court records said.
Charles was arrested in March after the Bowling Green Police Department received calls from other law enforcement agencies and multiple victims starting March 11.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Madison Sewell said the BGPD performed surveillance at eight locations before observing Charles pick up a package March 14.
When police arrested Charles, they recovered $333,166 in cash, three cellphones, a Blackberry and a money-counting machine, court records said.
Subsequent investigation by the FBI identified a total of 19 victims, ages 70 to 91, in 10 states who lost a total of $420,867.
“Between all the packages, deliveries and money dropped off in multiple cities, there are many, many victims that are not accounted for in this scheme,” Sewell said in court.
The indictment against Charles said he researched empty homes online and provided a list of addresses to a contact participating in the scheme.
Victims were contacted and asked to send money to one of the addresses collected by Charles, who picked up packages first in Orlando, Fla., then Atlanta and Nashville before his arrest in Bowling Green.
“Joasch Charles would confirm with a contact once he had picked up the package and would then be directed to a location where he would drop off the package,” the indictment said. “Drop-off locations included addresses in Florida, New York and Boston.”
Sewell had argued for Charles to receive a 33-month prison sentence, representing the low end penalty determined by federal sentencing guidelines that take into account the defendant’s criminal history and the nature of their offense.
Charles had no criminal convictions before this case.
Charles’ attorney, federal public defender Chasity Beyl, argued that he be allowed to remain on home incarceration for five years in order to better allow him to pay restitution, which U.S. District Court Chief Judge Greg Stivers set at $420,867.50.
“I believe that what has been shown by the evidence is that he was basically a bag man and kept in the dark about many facets of this scheme,” Beyl said in court. “He was told where to go, when to pick up money and where to drop off money.”
In a brief statement, Charles apologized to the victims.
When pronouncing the sentence, Stivers acknowledged receiving letters from several victims encouraging punishment to the full extent of the law, but added that Charles appeared to have a “relatively minor role in what seems to be an intricate scheme.”
“They were apparently pretty good at it,” Stivers said of the schemers. “Thank goodness there was a recovery of about 75% (of stolen funds).”