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Published: Thursday, 4/21/2011

Fremont man pleads guilty to overseas e-mail fraud


Acting as a local contact for the creators of e-mail scams originating out of western Africa, a Fremont man admitted in federal court Wednesday to helping defraud at least 18 victims out of more than $69,000.

Richard L. Roth, 59, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Toledo to five counts of wire fraud. He admitted that he participated in multiple schemes targeting victims in several states over a 10-month period.

"The total number of victims that the government is aware of was 18 who forwarded $69,381 to Mr. Roth, of which a portion he kept for himself and the remainder he forwarded on to Africa," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Karol said in court.

When questioned by Magistrate James Knepp II whether he disagreed with Mr. Karol's recitation of the facts, Roth answered that he did not.

Mr. Karol said unknown individuals in western Africa, namely Ghana and Nigeria, would contact victims via e-mail using a variety of schemes between March, 2009, and January, 2010. Those schemes included the promise of an inheritance or gold bars if the victim were to wire funds to help in the process, he said.

In one instance, the victim was asked to do computer repairs and was paid $900 in advance through a fraudulent money order. The money was requested back for "unexpected doctor bills" leading the victim to refund the payment with his own money before learning that he had received a counterfeit money order, Mr. Karol said.

Other schemes involved requests for money to help students or disabled individuals. In some cases, senior citizens were targeted.

"Mr. Roth's role in it was to be the receiver of the money," Mr. Karol said, adding that on the instructions of his "handlers," Roth would then send the victims flowers and candy.

Attorney Donna Grill added that Roth became involved in the scheme because "he too was a victim of this scam."

"He ended up in an e-mail relationship after he had sent an exorbitant amount of money himself and here we are," she said.

Mr. Karol responded that however he became involved, "Roth's participation was knowing and willful."

Roth acknowledged that he "had an understanding of the situation, yes."

Although each count could potentially carry up to 20 years in prison, advisory guidelines put Roth's potential punishment at between 12 and 18 months.

He will be sentenced on Aug. 22 by Judge Jack Zouhary.

Magistrate Knepp granted Roth release on a $10,000 unsecured bond pending his sentencing date.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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