Pair plead guilty in phone scam Oneida and Madison county residents among victims

Published Oct 10, 2018 at 4:00pm

At least 55 people across the state — including victims in Oneida and Madison counties — were duped in an elaborate, violent telephone scam that involved threats to kill a loved one.

Two men have been convicted in Onondaga County Court for running the scam, with a third man scheduled to reappear in court on Oct. 17, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

• Giovani Ayala-Rodriguez, 27, of Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty Tuesday before Judge Matthew Doran to two counts of second-degree grand larceny and one count of fourth-degree conspiracy, both felonies. He is scheduled to reappear in court for sentencing on Oct. 30, where he faces six to 12 years in state prison, and $14,529 in restitution.

Authorities said Ayala-Rodriguez was the “ringleader” of the phone scam.

• Orlando Gonzalez-Rivera, 26, of Syracuse, pleaded guilty on Aug. 24 to one count of fourth-degree conspiracy. He was sentenced on Sept. 13 to six months in county jail and five years probation.

Authorities said Ayala-Rodriguez would call sequential telephone numbers — using the same area code and three-digit prefix— and tell anyone that answered that one of their close relatives was just in a motor vehicle accident with Ayala-Rodriguez’s nephew, and that his nephew had been injured. Ayala-Rodriguez would then tell the victim that he and his nephew were drug dealers, and that he had kidnapped the close relative from the accident scene and had taken them to a nearby location.

Authorities said Ayala-Rodriguez demanded random for the kidnapped loved one to cover his nephew’s medical expenses, and would mimic sounds of the close relative begging, crying and being assaulted. If the victim hesitated about sending the ransom, authorities said Ayala-Rodriguez would threaten to shoot and kill their relative.

Some victims were told to pay the ransom by dropping the money in certain locations, and some were directed to pay through wire transfers in the United States or Puerto Rico, often using Walmart-to-Walmart money transfers.

Gonzalez-Rivera and the third man involved, Eligio Jimenez-Correa, would then pick up the money that was dropped off, officials said.

After paying the ransom, authorities said many victims were then directed to nearby hospitals to pick up their close relatives, only to then find out that nobody was in the hospital and they had been tricked.

“Terrorizing innocent New Yorkers in order to make a quick buck is unconscionable,” said state Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood in a release.

“New Yorkers should continue to be on high alert and use our tips to protect themselves from scam calls. We will not hesitate to prosecute those that try to extort New Yorkers to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Attorney General’s Office advises everyone to be on alert for such extortion scams. These scams rely on fear and speed, and will do whatever they can to keep you on the line and stop you from checking on the well being of your relative on your own.

They advise to never give our personal information to strangers over the telephone, and to never wire money to a stranger or purchase gift cards for the stranger.