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Cramming of Unauthorized Service Charges, Membership Fees, Subscriptions or Payments on Bank Accounts, Credit Cards or Telephone Bills Fraud

NEW YORK Feb. 11/04 (AP) —A Gambino crime family captain and nine underlings rang up millions in unauthorized charges from unsuspecting telephone customers, prosecutors charge.

An indictment unsealed Tuesday accuses the mobsters' company, USP&C, of luring customers into calling ostensibly free 800 telephone numbers and then tacking on service charges frequently exceeding $40 to monthly bills. The scheme is known as telephone "cramming."

The scheme generated as much as $600,000 a day between 1997 and 2001, and about $100 million in profits, according to prosecutors. Proceeds allegedly were laundered through a series of shell companies.

Four of the defendants had already been charged with a $230 million Internet fraud scheme believed to be the largest ever prosecuted.

In the Internet scheme, defendants are accused of launching pornographic Web sites offering free tours for anyone who presented credit card information as proof of age, promising: "Your card will not be billed."

Consumers around the world were charged recurring monthly rates of $90 until they realized they had been cheated, prosecutors said.

Update 02/05

(AP) Six reputed members of the Gambino crime family pleaded guilty to ringing up more than $650 million in unauthorized charges on telephone customers' credit cards and phone bills.

Prosecutors say Gambino captain Salvatore Locascio, made member Richard Martino and four mob associates pleaded guilty to charges including money laundering and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

They face sentences ranging from less than two years to 10 years in prison and they have agreed to forfeit millions of dollars in proceeds from the scheme.

"The perpetrators of one of the largest consumer frauds in history will serve significant time in prison," U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said in a statement.

Prosecutors said the men set up shell corporations advertising free services such as psychic readings, phone sex and horoscopes. Calling the numbers, however, triggered unauthorized monthly charges on customers' phone bills, eventually grossing more than $420 million for the Gambino members and their associates.

Prosecutors said Martino was also charged in a scheme that placed unauthorized charges on the credit cards of customers seeking free tours of porn Web sites. Prosecutors said $230 million in fake charges was charged to consumers who believed the sites needed their card numbers to verify their ages.

The head of a Kansas City-area phone company pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for his role in the scheme.

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