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Four from Buford plead guilty in multi-million-dollar sweepstakes phone scam

Four people from Buford and one from Costa Rica have pleaded guilty in a sweepstakes scam that took more than $3.5 million from dozens of elderly victims, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Daniel Sibaja, 28, Elpelice Figueroa Rosales, 62 and Silvia Sanchez Valverde, 47, all of Buford, as well as Rodolfo Orozco Aguilar, of Costa Rica, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Priscilla Sibaja, 21, of Buford, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

All of them have sentencing hearings scheduled throughout November. 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, dozens of victims were called between February 2016 and September 2017 and told they had won a sweepstakes or lottery.

“The victims were told that they could receive their sweepstakes winnings after they paid various expenses, such as taxes and fees. The victims were directed to pay the expenses to various companies controlled by the defendants, such as J.G. Services, RF Financial Services, and Master Builders. The victims would then mail payments via personal and cashier’s checks to addresses that were linked to mailboxes rented by the defendants,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in a news release.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said more than $3.5 million was deposited into bank accounts before transferring “the majority of the funds to Costa Rican bank accounts.”

“These defendants stole the life savings of dozens of elderly victims and received more than $3.5 million,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak in a news release. “These schemes unfortunately are all too common and citizens should be wary of contests that require upfront payments to receive a prize.”

According to court documents, the victims were instructed to send checks “via overnight delivery to mailboxes located in Buford and Dacula.

The forfeiture provision upon conviction would apply to “all property constituting or derived from proceeds obtained directly or indirectly as a result of said violations,” which would include money in various bank accounts, smartphones and laptop computers. 

It was unclear how much money might be available for seizure or how much might be returned to victims.

None of the attorneys except for Dennis O’Brien, Priscilla Sibaja’s attorney, returned a request for comment. O’Brien declined to comment, citing the pending hearing.