Judith and Ronald Attig did not know the young woman who appeared on their El Cajon doorstep in the afternoon of May 19, 2020. But they had been waiting for her.
Earlier, they'd received a frantic call from their grandson, Troy. He said he’d been in an auto accident and was in police custody. He needed money and begged his grandparents to give it to him without telling his father, who would be angry at him.
Troy said he needed $7,600. Judith Attig had a lot of questions, but he had all the answers.
“He doesn’t have his phone, he borrowed one from a friend. He told me someone was going to pick (the money) up and it was the only way to get out of jail,” the 78-year-old Judith Attig said in a recent interview, recounting the conversation. “So I did what every mother, grandmother does — help them.”
Peering into the Attig’s doorbell camera, the woman said her name was Jessica and she had come to pick up the money for Troy to give to a bail bondsman. They gave it to her.
But her name wasn’t Jessica, it was 24-year-old Jasmin Parore from Los Angeles, according to court documents. There was no bail bondsman and the man who’d called them wasn’t their grandson.
The Attigs are among dozens of people in San Diego and across the country who fell victim to a so-called "grandparents scam" run by a nationwide criminal syndicate known as the Enterprise, according to the San Diego District Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement.
Old crime, new approach
The grandparents scam is an old crime, but the Enterprise has taken it to a new level, said Deputy San Diego County District Attorney Scott Pirrello.
“This is so much more rampant than anyone in the country is willing to admit,” Pirrello said.
Parore was among many couriers working for the Enterprise. She took the Attig’s money and passed it to a crew chief who oversees other couriers. It was then passed up to the national organization, according to court documents.
It was through Parore that law enforcement was able to get a sense of the breadth of the organization, Pirrello said. She was eventually linked to a dozen other cases in San Diego County. And then it became clear to investigators that the operation stretched far beyond San Diego.
“Through good old fashioned police work in collaboration with all these different agencies we were able to bring twelve cases where (Parore) was the courier picking up the money,” Pirrello said. “There was a network of money laundering syndicate above her and that launched a federal investigation.”
Parore was arrested in 2021 and charged with 33 felonies, including extortion, fraud and money laundering. She struck a plea deal and is currently serving a four year sentence in Central California Women's Prison in Chowchilla, California.
Oleksandra Johnson, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office in San Diego, said Parore’s arrest got the feds interested. The Justice Department doesn’t usually pay attention to elder fraud abuse, but this one was different.
“She led us to the others on the West Coast,” Johnson said.
Johnson would join the FBI, the San Diego DA’s Office and other law enforcement agencies to form a first-of-its-kind crime fighting team — the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force. In another first, Enterprise members were prosecuted under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which can lead to longer prison terms and larger fines.
"A RICO indictment in a case like this is something that is really a watershed moment in the fight against elder scams,” Pirrello said.
Also in 2021, federal grand jury indicted eight other Enterprise members. Six of those indicted have pleaded guilty and two have already been sentenced, the U.S. Attorney's office told KPBS.
U.S. law enforcement has yet to bring the other two into custody. One is in Bulgaria awaiting extradition. Other alleged members of the syndicate are targets of ongoing investigations says Johnson
Got too greedy
Looking back, investigators say they were able to get a major break the case because the Enterprise got too greedy — couriers tried to squeeze more money out of their victims. That’s what happened to the Attigs.
“He called back, wanting $21,000 more,” Judith Attig said, referring to the man posing as her grandson.
So, the couple headed to their bank, California Bank & Trust in El Cajon, to take the money out. But “the girls at the bank said it was a scam,” Judith Attig said.
That next major breakthrough came when the task force learned of a similar scenario that played out in Sagamore Hills, Ohio. An 86-year-old woman was hit up a second time to help her granddaughter.
“The victim by then realized (something was) not right,” Johnson said. “So when he showed up, they arrested him (and) seized his phone devices.”
The phones provided a wealth of leads. Law enforcement now had a roadmap to the Enterprise’s network. In time, investigators would uncover operations in 15 states and overseas, including those in Florida, Arizona, New York and Texas.
New awareness needed
Nancy Pham-Klingler, a senior fraud investigator with the San Diego County Adult Protective Services, is among those trying to bring greater awareness to elder fraud. In October, she testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.
She talked about the tremendous losses suffered by San Diegans and others due to fraud like the grandparents scam.
“An issue that our vulnerable population, who have spent years and years of hard working saving for their golden years, only to be deceived and have their life savings stolen under false pretenses by vicious perpetrators," Pham-Klingler said.
The tools of deception for The Enterprise are the internet, social media and the dark web. They find personal information to exploit when persuading their targets.
“They study psychology, they know exactly how to get their hook into a victim,” Johnson from the U.S. Attorney's office said.
Pirrello from the DA’s Office said the investigation has shown the vulnerability of older Americans and should bring a new awareness of elder fraud to the highest levels of law enforcement.
“We’re not going to educate our way out of this problem. We need serious action, from law enforcement, from the government, from the banking industry and from the retail industry,” Pirrello said. “We need a monumental response to this monumental problem.”
As for the ongoing effort against the Enterprise gang members? “We’re going to follow the evidence and get it done,” Johnson said.