Alleged conspirators in nationwide fraud scheme are behind bars

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Two of three men indicted for allegedly conspiring in a telephone-based scheme to steal tens of thousands of dollars from Inland Empire residents and others throughout the country were behind bars Friday, Oct. 23, awaiting trial on federal charges.

Elmer Miranda Barrios, 35, of Lake Elsinore and his cousin, 36-year-old William Margarito Barrios of Mexico, were arrested Thursday, Oct. 22, after an indictment was unsealed charging both with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. William Barrios is additionally charged with living in the United States illegally after deportation.

A third defendant, 30-year-old Anuj M. Patel of Lake Elsinore, remains free and is likely to make a court appearance before the end of the year, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office representative Ciaran McEvoy.

The Barrios cousins were arraigned and entered “not guilty” pleas Thursday at U.S. District Court in Riverside. They’re each in federal custody and tentatively slated for trial Dec. 15, McEvoy said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged that between April 2019 and March 2020, the defendants were collectors for overseas conspirators in a scheme that targeted individuals in their late 50s and older.

The unnamed conspirators, who may be based in India, posed as federal law enforcement agents and contacted victims, informing them that they were at risk of being arrested and having their assets seized because they had been implicated in unspecified acts of fraud, as a result of identity theft, and there were outstanding warrants with their names on them, according to prosecutors.

The government alleged the overseas co-conspirators warned victims that one certain way to clear the warrants was to withdraw cash and send it by mail.

“The victims were ordered to send the parcels through shipping companies that allowed parcel recipients to pick up a parcel so long as the recipients had identification matching the names listed on the parcels as the addressees,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Pickup locations where the three defendants allegedly went were in Riverside, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

One victim, identified only as an 82-year-old citizen, was persuaded to send $10,000 to an address in Hemet. Other victims sent varying amounts of money, and the ill-gotten gains totaled $541,420, according to the government.

About 50 people were victimized.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigators, the Social Security Administration, Murrieta police, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Fullerton police, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Brownsville, Texas, Police Department, and nearly a dozen other municipal and county law enforcement agencies nationwide were involved in the investigation.

If convicted, the defendants could face up to a maximum 20 to 22 years in federal prison.