A native of Russia was sentenced to 18 months in prison Wednesday in federal court in Chicago for taking part in a telemarketing scam that cheated mostly elderly victims in the United States and Canada.
Typically, victims were led to believe they had won a large cash prize but first had to send money to cover duty costs, taxes or liens.
One 81-year-old woman from Aurora, repeatedly hit up for more and more money, dventually lost more than $200,000 in the scheme, authorities said.
In pleading guilty last August to a single count of mail fraud, Vladimir Dolgodvorov, 35, formerly of London, admitted his role was to control bank accounts in England used in the scheme.
Dolgodvorov took a 10 percent cut of the money for himself and distributed the rest to co-schemers in Canada, according to his plea agreement.
No one else has been charged in the case, but Assistant U.S. Atty. William Hogan Jr. said in court that the investigation is continuing. Dolgodvorov is cooperating, said his lawyer, Steven A. Greenberg.
In addition to the 18-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ordered Dolgodvorov to pay restitution of more than $600,000, his alleged share of the illicit profits. "This is one of the more unusual cases I've had," Pallmeyer said.
Prosecutors are attempting to retrieve for victims about $125,000 frozen in three bank accounts held by Dolgodvorov in London, court records show.
Authorities traced $900,000 in fraud to Dolgodvorov, but they believe losses from the scheme go much higher.
Dolgodvorov was indicted in 2000, but he fought his extradition from London until last year. He hopes to serve the remainder of his sentence in England, Greenberg said.
Dolgodvorov won political asylum in England after he was drafted into the Russian Army in 1991 but refused to join because it was "fighting against their own people," Greenberg said.
Dolgodvorov's co-schemers, sometimes posing as U.S. Customs officers, called victims by telephone to announce their winnings with the hitch they had to first pay taxes or other costs, authorities said. None ever received any money or prizes.
Co-schemers called the elderly Aurora victim every two or three days between June and December 1998, telling her she had won $300,000.
On at least eight separate occasions, the woman sent money, as much as $80,000 one time, authorities said.
Some of the elderly victims lost their life savings, authorities said.