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After Judge Throws Out Conviction, The Fate Of Three Defendants In South Florida Sweepstakes Fraud Case Hangs In The Balance


These days, Internet scams that prey on elderly people who do not understand rapidly changing consumer technologies get most of the publicity, but old-fashioned mail fraud is alive and well.  In fact, a sweepstakes fraud case in which four South Florida men allegedly swindled millions of dollars from more than a thousand victims is still going on in federal court, and most of the victims were elderly.  In this case, the defendants mailed fraudulent notices about a non-existent sweepstakes prize, requesting a small fee as a prerequisite for collecting a large cash prize.  Seniors are most vulnerable to these kinds of scams, because they are the most likely to open mass-mailed notices and the least likely to search online to verify the claims made in these notices.  Poor financial decisions by elderly people can be a sign of more serious problems, ranging from loneliness to dementia.  If you are concerned about an elderly relative who has recently started making unwise financial decisions, contact a Central Florida elder law attorney.

The Sweepstakes Scammers Who Deceived Thousands of Elderly Victims and Each Other

Between 2010 and 2015, John Leon of Wilton Manors, Matthew Pisoni of Fort Lauderdale, Marcus Pradel of Boca Raton, and Victor Ramirez of Aventura ran a sweepstakes scam that enabled them to defraud victims out of millions of dollars.  They mailed out millions of notices to addresses in the United States and at least six other countries.  The notices said that the recipients had won a sweepstakes prize and that, in order to claim it, they had to pay a fee (usually between $20 and $50).  More than 100,000 victims, most of them elderly, sent the money to the addresses indicated on the notices.  As is typical of sweepstakes notices, the defendants’ notices contained difficult-to-understand disclaimers in fine print at the bottom.

In 2015, Leon pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.  As part of his plea deal, he agreed to testify against his co-defendants.  The prosecution, however, ordered him to act as a mole, telling his co-defendants that he was also pleading not guilty and attending meetings with them at their defense team.  This enabled the prosecution to present stronger arguments against the other defendants at their trial.  In 2018, a jury convicted Pisoni, Pradel, and Ramirez, but they appealed their conviction, objecting to the prosecution’s unfair tactic of using Leon as a mole.  In July 2021, a federal judge threw out the convictions and ordered a new trial for Pisoni, Pradel, and Ramirez.  The judge reasoned that, by using Leon as a mole without first seeking the Attorney General’s permission to do so, the prosecution had violated the defendants’ right to due process.

Contact an Attorney Today for Help

If you are concerned that an elderly family member of yours is vulnerable to financial scams that they would not have fallen victim to in the past, a Clearwater elder law attorney can help you protect them from suffering devastating financial losses.  Contact William Rambaum for help with your case.



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