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Two plead guilty to nationwide racketeering scam targeting the elderly

In this Sept. 22, 2017, file photo, customers look at iPhones at an Apple Store in San Francisco.
Jeff Chiu / AP
In this file photo from 2017, two people use iPhones at an Apple store.

A man and woman charged in a nationwide racketeering scheme targeting the elderly that took more than $300,000 from at least 10 San Diego County residents pleaded guilty to federal charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Wednesday.

Joaquin Lopez, 46, of Hollywood, Florida, and Anajah Gifford, 33, of North Hollywood, California, entered guilty pleas this month, admitting to their roles in a scheme that took more than $2 million from more than 70 senior citizens across the nation.

Four others remain charged in the case, including two who remain at large.

Co-defendants Jack Owuor, 25, of Paramount, and Timothy Ingram, 29, of North Hollywood, pleaded guilty in March and are awaiting sentencing.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the defendants phoned senior citizens and falsely claimed their grandchildren were in legal trouble and needed money to resolve fabricated issues such as paying for bail, medical expenses or to prevent additional criminal charges from being filed against them.

Prosecutors say Ingram admitted to recruiting people to pick up money from the victims, while Owuor conducted cash pick-ups himself at Ingram's direction and also recruited others to collect payments. Officials say the defendants then laundered the money they received either by transferring the funds or converting the money into cryptocurrency.

In Lopez's plea agreement, he admitted using bank accounts to funnel the victims' money to one of his co-defendants.

Gifford admitted in her plea agreement to collecting cash from victims on Ingram's behalf and recruiting others to get bank accounts in order to receive money transfers from the victims.

U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said, "These defendants were part of a sophisticated criminal organization that exploited the tremendous love a grandparent has for a grandchild. The victims were financially and emotionally devastated by callous people who thought only of enriching themselves."