POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A well-known preacher in Powhatan County is accused of being involved in an international lottery scheme that duped individuals out of thousands of dollars.
A Powhatan County grand jury indicted 81-year-old Frederick Shmidt on Tuesday for four felony counts of larceny by false pretenses.
It’s the kind of thing you might read in a thriller novel: An elderly preacher is accused of fleecing senior citizens out of thousands of dollars. But investigators say it’s not fiction.
The indictments stem from an international lottery fraud investigation that began in Oct. 2016, when the postal inspector received a complaint from a man claiming his elderly father was scammed out of $46,000.
The complaint alleged that his father received unsolicited phone calls from a person claiming that he had won over a million dollars in an international lottery drawing. The caller told the victim that he had to pay the taxes and fees on the money in advance to claim the winnings. The victim was told to send checks to an address in Powhatan County.
Multiple other individuals from several states also allege that they received the same phone call, according to the Powhatan Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. The amount of money involved appears to be more than $100,000.
The investigation also revealed that after initially being sent to Powhatan County, the money was forwarded to other states until it ultimately arrived in Jamaica, via wire transfer, bank transfers and boxes of cash shipped by commercial shippers.
“They will call them on the phone and say this is Joe from the lottery and I’m happy to tell you you’ve just won a million dollars,” Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Cerullo explained.
Postal Inspectors believe that this is part of a much larger conspiracy that can be traced to a group in Jamaica. Authorities are still investigating the identities of other parties involved.
Diane Lorio told 8News that her elderly mother lost more than a hundred thousand dollars in the scam.
“I’m angry,” Iorio said. “I’m really angry. My mom was brokenhearted.”
Iorio’s mother sent about half of the money to a mailbox in Powhatan.
“Right now we’re looking at the motivation regarding Mr. Shmidt and how he got involved in this and why,” Cerullo told 8News.
“My mom is older and if you think, ‘my parents are educated, they could never fall for this,’ that’s not true. These people are good at what they do,” Iorio told 8News.
8News Reporter Kristin Smith spoke with Shmidt, who says he is also a victim in this scheme. Shmidt claims that he was told he’d won millions in the lottery, but he didn’t have enough money to pay the taxes and fees in order to receive the winnings.
Shmidt claims he thought the checks he was getting were from strangers who wanted to help him pay those fees.