Defendants Engaged in Elaborate Telephone Scam to Extort Money from Victims by Threatening to Shoot Their Relatives if They Did Not Pay Ransom.
New York, NY - May 29, 2018 - Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood and State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II today announced the arrests of ringleader Giovani Ayala-Rodriguez, a.k.a. “George Peters,” 27, of Puerto Rico, and co-conspirators Eligio Jimenez-Correa, 40, of Syracuse, and Orlando Gonzalez-Rivera, 26, of Syracuse, for their roles in an elaborate telephone extortion scheme that operated in Onondaga and other counties throughout New York. The indictment, unsealed in Onondaga County Court, charges the defendants with multiple counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a Class “C” felony), attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a Class “D” felony), Coercion in the First Degree (a Class “D” felony), and Conspiracy in Fourth Degree (a Class “E” felony).
“As we allege, the defendants engaged in a shameful scheme to terrorize and rob New Yorkers,” said Attorney General Underwood. “Today’s takedown should send an unmistakable message to those who seek to extort New Yorkers: you will not get away with it.”
“Our investigation uncovered a ruthless scheme designed to extort money from the victims through fear and intimidation, and this type of criminal activity simply will not be tolerated. I commend our Special Investigations Unit and our partners at the Attorney General’s Office for their hard work to hold these suspects accountable for their actions, and deliver justice for their victims,” said State Police Superintendent Beach.
The investigation has identified over 55 victims of this scheme, not only in Onondaga County, but also in Kings, Nassau, Oneida, Madison, Oswego, Cayuga, Niagara, Cortland, and Genesee Counties.
This case was the result of a joint investigation by the New York State Police (“NYSP”) and the New York State Attorney General’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. After multiple complaints from victims who received telephone calls from an individual claiming to have kidnapped or otherwise detained their family members, the NYSP and the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into an ongoing larceny by extortion scheme occurring in Onondaga County and elsewhere in New York State; in March 2018, the agencies issued a consumer alert warning New Yorkers of this scheme.
According to the indictment filed in Onondaga County Court and statements made by prosecutors at arraignment, Ayala-Rodriguez, Jimenez-Correa, and Gonzalez-Rivera allegedly conducted an elaborate larceny by extortion scheme that operated as follows: Ayala-Rodriguez called victims and claimed that their close relatives were in a car accident that resulted in injury to his nephew. Ayala-Rodriguez claimed to have taken the victim’s sibling, spouse, or parent from the purported accident scene to a nearby residence. During the conversation, Ayala-Rodriguez demanded money from the victim, claiming that his injured relative did not have any insurance to pay related bills. Ayala-Rodriguez threatened to cause physical harm to the victims’ family members if a ransom was not paid. To further instill fear and compliance with his demands, Ayala-Rodriguez claimed that he was a drug dealer and/or gang member. When certain victims hesitated to comply with his demands, Ayala-Rodriguez threatened to shoot their relatives.
As further set forth in the indictment and based on statements made by prosecutors, some victims were allegedly directed to pay the ransom money by following a series of instructions to deliver the money to specific locations, some in the vicinity of Westcott and East Fayette Streets, in the City of Syracuse. In other instances, victims were allegedly directed to pay ransom money using various forms of wire transfers to specific accounts in the United States and/or Puerto Rico, including Walmart-to-Walmart transfers. According to prosecutors, Jimenez-Correa and Orlando-Rivera participated in the scheme by picking up monies delivered by victims.
After paying the ransom money, victims were allegedly directed to area hospitals to pick up their relatives, only to learn that they were the victims of an elaborate and terrifying hoax, and that their relatives had never been in car accidents or abducted.
The Attorney General’s indictment charges the defendants with the following crimes related to five victims of the alleged extortion scheme: alleged ringleader Ayala-Rodriguez is charged with three counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, three counts of Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, three counts of Coercion in the First Degree, and one count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree. Jimenez-Correa is charged with two counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, one count of Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, two counts of Coercion in the First Degree, and one count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree. Gonzalez-Rivera is charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, one count of Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, one count of Coercion in the First Degree, and one count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.
Alleged ringleader Ayala-Rodriguez was apprehended last Friday in the Bronx, after flying to New York from Puerto Rico. Ayala-Rodriguez was arraigned today on the indictment before the Honorable Judge Doran in Onondaga County Court; bail was set at $500,000 cash or $1,000,000 bond, and he was ordered to surrender his passport. Ayala-Rodriguez is next scheduled to appear on June 21, 2018. Jimenez-Correa and Gonzalez-Rivera were apprehended in Syracuse, and are scheduled for arraignment on May 31, 2018.
If convicted of all counts charged, Ayala-Rodriguez and Jimenez-Correa face up to 10 to 20 years in prison; Gonzalez-Rivera faces up to 7 1/3 to 20 years in prison.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The NYSP and OAG investigation of additional crimes is ongoing. Any New Yorker who believes they may have been a victim of this scheme should immediately contact the New York State Police at 1-800-GIVETIP.
Attorney General Underwood reminds New Yorkers of the following tips to avoid falling victim to this type of extortion scheme:
If the caller is a stranger, be alert. Be aware that this type of extortion scam depends on fear. The scammer knows they need to work quickly to obtain your money because you may try to take steps, even while on the phone with the scammer, to figure out if your relative is in actual danger. Scammers will try to keep you on the line.
Never give out personal information to a stranger on the phone.
Never wire money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or any other wire service to a stranger.
Never purchase gift or money cards for the purpose of providing the gift card numbers to someone else.
Immediately contact the police if you get a call like the ones described here.
The Office of the Attorney General thanks the New York State Police, Syracuse Police Department, Port Authority Police Department, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, Manilus Police Department, Syracuse Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and United States Department of Homeland Security for their invaluable assistance on this case.
The New York State Police investigation was conducted by Investigator Casey A. Cook, along with members from the State Police Special Investigations Unit and the Troop D Major Crime Unit.
The Attorney General’s investigation was conducted by Investigator Joel Cordone under the supervision of Deputy Chief Antoine Karam, with the assistance of Investigators Steven Pratt and Ismael Hernandez under the supervision of Supervising Investigator Michael Leahy and Deputy Chief John McManus. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Dominick Zarrella.
The criminal case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Andrew J. Tarkowski and John R. Healy of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, with the assistance of Legal Analyst Joseph Conniff and Supervising Legal Analyst Paul Strocko. The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton and Deputy Bureau Chief Joseph G. D’Arrigo. The Criminal Division is led by Margaret Garnett, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice.