Bah Humbug As Sweepstakes Telephone Con Artist Gets Prison

November 27, 2012

Pick up enough ringing telephones and you will likely hear the spiel:You won a sweepstakes.

Never mind that you're on the Do Not Call registry - as useless a bit of nonsense as exists.

Never mind that you have no recollection whatsoever of having entered a sweepstakes.

The persistent caller on the other end is ecstatic about your financial windfall. You've hit it big! You've won the sweepstakes!!

All ya gotta do, see, is send a check or a wire or cash to cover some blah-blah-blah thingamagig that's holding up the forwarding of your humongous prize.

Enter one Osman Bah, 25, Owings Mills, MD, who truly seems to have gotten off on an exceptionally wrong foot at an early age.  According to federal prosecutors, Bah participated in a conspiracy to defraud U.S. residents out of millions of dollars by deceiving them into believing they won a large cash sweepstakes prize. Calls to the victims, mostly folks over 55 years of age, were made from Costa Rica using Internet-connected computers that disguised the origin of the calls. For what it's worth, let just agree that Costa Rica and bogus sweepstakes are not a good combination.

Apparently Bah and his phone cronies called you and claimed to have been with the Federal Trade Commission (the "FTC"), which is the same federal agency supposedly policing the Do Not Callregistry. A delicious bit of irony, no?

In any event, Bah and his pals - the phony FTC callers - assured you that if you wired thousands of dollars for payment of a "refundable insurance fee," that your prize would soon be on its way to you. What Bah didn't tell his victims was that they were sending this refundable insurance fee payment to Bah in Maryland.  And most certainly what Bah didn't disclose was that he kept a cut of the payment and forwarded the rest of the money on to his co-conspirators in Costa Rica.

There was a lovely rhythm to this scam.  Bah and his cronies kept calling you for more money needed to release the prize and, oh well, as long as you kept sending additional payments, the con artists kept calling you for more. Apparently, once you turned off the cash spigot, they stopped callin'.

In June 2011, Bah's co-conspirator Ercell Carey pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud for his role in the scheme. He was sentenced to serve eight months of home confinement, forfeit $61,689, and pay $43,022 in restitution, jointly and severally.

On July 26, 2011, Bah pleaded guilty in federal court in the Western District of North Carolina to one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. On November 26, 2012, Bah was sentenced to 108 months in prison and two years of supervised release. Also, Bah was ordered to pay $187,500 in restitution.

To date, 45 defendants have been convicted for their participation in this scheme, which yielded $10 million in payments.