CLEVELAND — Two Florida men were sentenced Monday to federal prison as “couriers” in what authorities was part of a nationwide scam targeting grandparents.
John Tyler Pla, 25 and Johnny Lee Palmer, 26, both of Tampa, Florida pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud last March after Westlake Police launched their own investigation in August 2020.
Both the FBI and the Cleveland Division of Police also took part in the investigation.
U.S. District Judge Pamela A. Barker sentenced Pla to 37-months in federal prison while Palmer received 33 months.
Both men were ordered to pay nearly $400,000 in restitution to victims in the scam that included eight elderly grandparents in Northeast Ohio and a total of 28 others nationwide.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian McDonough, who prosecuted the case, told the judge both men "induced fear and panic" in the elderly victims.
An exclusive 5 On Your Side Investigation obtained key evidence including video and audio recordings that reveal how grandparents were scammed out of thousands of dollars falsely believing their loved ones were arrested and needed payment for legal fees.
According to court documents, from July 20, 2020, to Aug. 28, 2020, both Pla and Palmer orchestrated a “grandparent scam” targeting elderly victims in Northern Ohio including Brecksville, Parma, Gates Mills, Lorain, Mansfield, Fairview Park, Mentor and Westlake.
Other members of the conspiracy would call elderly victims and tell them to have cash ready for pick up by Pla and Palmer who were described in court as "couriers" and "low-level" members of the conspiracy that phoned instructions to both men detailing how and when the cash was to be picked up in return for a cut of the payments.
In the Westlake case, an elderly victim alerted police that she had already turned over $6,000 in cash to both men who arrived at home in a U-Haul truck--but was now asked to hand over even more.
Instead, an undercover detective returned the call posing as the elderly victim while the conversation was tape-recorded.
Westlake Police issued a description of the U-Haul truck that was spotted by an RTA police officer parked in a downtown Cleveland parking lot where both men were arrested.
In addition, Westlake detectives combed city traffic cameras for video that ultimately showed the identical van traveling through the city on the same day another camera caught it on video parked outside the victim’s home.
The victims in this case suffered a combined loss of $383,932.
The Justice Department advises anyone 60 years old or older and has been a victim of financial fraud to call the National Elder Fraud Hotline, 833-FRAUD-11 ( 833-372-8311) to report suspected cases.