Canadian man sentenced for bilking American seniors through ‘grandparent scam’

A Canadian man received a sentence of three years and five months in federal prison Monday for swindling Southern California senior citizens out of money through a phone scam in which he and his accomplices pretended to be the victims’ relatives who had gotten into trouble while traveling abroad, authorities said.

Clifford Kirstein, 29, of Montreal, was also ordered to pay $56,258 in restitution to eight known victims during his sentencing hearing in federal court in Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

He was extradited to the U.S. from Canada early last year and pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud in November, DOJ spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. He was originally named in a 25-count wire fraud indictment that also accused four co-defendants.

“Kirstein admitted in court that he and his co-conspirators contacted their elderly U.S. victims by telephone and fraudulently induced victims to send money by pretending to be a grandchild or some other relative who was in distress in a foreign nation,” Mrozek said. “As a result, frightened victims wired money as instructed to help their loved ones.”

The scammers had the victims send money via Western Union or MoneyGram, officials said. In some instances, the scammers targeted victims multiple times, calling them back to request additional money for the purported purpose of helping a grandchild or other relative in need.

“Canadian law enforcement executed a search warrant in 2012 at a Montreal apartment, where they found a fully operating telemarketing boiler room, a large amount of cash and a money counting machine,” according to Mrozek. “The individual rooms of the apartment were strewn with lead sheets, burner phones and calling cards, and the bathroom had been set up as an office with a chair in front of the sink.”

Three of the other defendants, who are also Montreal men, have already pleaded guilty to charges and received prison terms for their roles in the scam operation, prosecutors said. A fifth defendant, 31-year-old Peter Iacino of Canada, is being sought as a fugitive.

The identified victims included a Camarillo resident, officials said.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors described the organized con as “a heinous and cruel hoax, which involved threats of violence when victims did not cooperate.”

“(Kirstein) and his co-schemers stole not only the victims’ money, but terrified them and damaged their self-confidence,” prosecutors wrote.