Tel Aviv Police fraud investigators said Monday they believed that ten suspects detained Sunday on suspicion of operating a scam against thousands of elderly U.S. citizens took some $30 million from their victims over the past five years.
Police believe the crime ring was headed by Avi Ayash, 38, of Tel Aviv, with his wife Michelle, 27, and their friend Yaron Bar, 39. The three allegedly employed dozens of young Israelis, including the other seven suspects detained on Sunday, to defraud the retirees of much of their life savings.
Last year ten people were detained on similar suspicions. Investigators soon realized this was not an isolated incident, but rather part of a wave of financial scams.
The alleged fraud was perpetrated through a contact person in the United States, who received the personal details of thousands of Americans from a company that operated legal lottery games for small sums. Telemarketers based in Tel Aviv and other locations in Israel would call the targeted individuals, posing as representatives of another U.S. lottery operator, and tell them they were eligible for a $500,000 prize.
The callers would then explain that a New York-based attorney was responsible for distributing the prize money and give the victims a phone number with a New York area code, that actually rang in the same Israeli office. Their colleagues, posing as the attorneys, informed the individuals they needed to pay $67,000 in taxes to claim their prize, which would be delivered straight to their homes.
Investigators found $400,000 in cash during the probe, as well as two Audi luxury vehicles worth several hundred thousand shekels. "Some of the elderly people who seemed suspicious were even sent chocolates or flowers," said Chief Inspector Matan Glatt of the fraud unit.
Monday the ten suspects appeared in court, after several hours' questioning yielded confessions from some. The court extended their remand by eight days.
Police sources said they expect additional arrests in the coming days. The sources also said that Ayash and his associates allegedly assaulted a young employee who sought to leave the operation and threatened other employees who expressed a desire to leave.
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