Pa. judge convicts woman targeting deaf and elderly in $1.2 million fraud scheme

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Victims identified as either elderly, deaf, or both were among the targets of a “deaf lottery” or ‘government grant’ scheme which raked in over $1.2 million according to Acting United States Attorney Bruce D. Brandler.

On Wednesday, June 2, Donna L. Summerlin, age 62, of Fortville, Indiana, was convicted with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to Acting United States Attorney Bruce D. Brandler, Summerlin who is deaf herself, the schemes took place online via Facebook and told victims they were winners of a “deaf lottery” or that they had been selected for special and exclusive government grants or other programs.

In order to claim their supposed prizes, grants, or other financial rewards, victims were
directed to prepay expenses such as ‘taxes’ and ‘customs fees.’ Afterward, some victims were asked to make multiple payments without receiving any financial reward.

But authorities say Summerlin’s role was akin to a “money mule” or intermediary for fraudsters contacting potential victims through Facebook, email, and text messages used fake names and photographs to disguise themselves.

At trial, evidence showed that Summerlin received over $1.2 million from over 100 people across the country and, in some cases, other countries such as Canada and Australia.

According to Brandler, Summerlin would receive the money before rapidly withdrawing it from the more than 40 bank accounts she used. Typically, wiring a portion of the funds to coconspirators in Nigeria and Great Britain and making large cash withdrawals, which were used to send funds and for personal use.

A guilty verdict was returned from the jury approximately an hour of deliberation.

The maximum penalty under federal law for these offenses is 20 years of imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a fine.

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