PALM BEACH – There will be no trial for two South Florida men who owned and operated a fraudulent tech support business known as Client Care Experts, LLC (CCE). Michael Austin Seward, 32, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Kevin James McCormick, 46, of Delray Beach, Florida, have both pleaded guilty to a federal indictment charging them with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, admitting in the process that their business – formerly known as “First Choice Tech Support” – was a scam.
Seward and McCormick were part owners of CCE, based in Boynton Beach, Florida, and held themselves out as the chief executive officer and chief financial officer respectively. As part of their guilty pleas, both men admitted that they also oversaw the operations of another fraudulent tech support business called ABC Repair Tech (ABC), located in Costa Rica.
According to court documents, the defendants purchased pop-up advertisements that would appear suddenly on a person’s computer screen. The pop-ups were made to look like system warnings and falsely informed the victims that serious problems, such as viruses or malware, had been detected on their computers. Often, the pop-ups caused the person’s internet browser to freeze up and stop responding. The pop-ups also typically warned the victims not to shut down their computers or else they would lose all their data. Instead, the ads directed them to call a toll-free number, where they were connected to sales representatives who continued the fraud.
The sales representatives would convince the victims to grant them remote access to their computers, where normal computer functions and routine processes were highlighted as evidence of serious computer problems. Victims were never told that the pop-ups that had hijacked their computers were just advertisements purchased by the tech support company, or that in most instances they could make the pop-ups go away simply by rebooting their computers. Instead, they were sold remote “tune-ups” for $250 and anti-virus protection software for another $400. If victims balked at the steep prices, the sales representatives would offer them a discount for being a senior citizen or a military veteran or something else.
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From 2013-2016, the two companies – CCE and ABC – combined to defraud more than 40,000 people. Victims were located in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, several U.S. territories, all 10 Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, and several other foreign countries. At least 57 victims of the scams were residents of the Southern District of Illinois, representing 22 of the district’s 38 counties, including St. Clair and Madison. All told, the two companies took in over $25 million.
Before Seward and McCormick pleaded guilty, they had been set for trial on Sept. 9. Their case has been pending since May 2018, when a federal grand jury in East St. Louis returned a superseding indictment charging them and their former vice president, Grant Clark Wasik, 35, of Boynton Beach, Florida, with one count of conspiracy and 13 counts of wire fraud. Wasik pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count earlier this year.
The Honorable Joe Billy McDade from the Central District of Illinois was recently appointed to preside over the case and will handle the defendants’ sentencing hearings from the federal district courthouse in East St. Louis. Seward and McCormick are set to be sentenced on November 18. Wasik’s sentencing is scheduled for October 8.
The former CEO of ABC, Michael Cary Lawing, is due to be sentenced on October 15 before the Honorable Nancy J. Rosenstengel, Chief United States District Judge for the Southern District of Illinois. Lawing, 34, of Lincolnton, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy late last year.
Since April 2017, 14 other employees of CCE and ABC have also pleaded guilty to federal fraud violations in the Southern District of Illinois:
• Joseph Ralph Aievoli, IV, 26, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Cory Steven Bachman, 26, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Andrew Douglas Broad, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Director of Training at CCE
• Ryan Stocker Carr, 24, of Mount Laurel, NJ – Team Leader at CCE
• Joshua Dennis Cortez, 38, of Lake Worth, FL – Director of Training at CCE
• Nicholas James Davidson, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Patrick M. Dougherty, 36, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Tatum Elyse Espenshade, 27, of West Palm Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Eric M. Iannaccone, 33, of Monroe Township, NJ – Sales Manager at CCE
• Anthony Vincent Ludena, 30, of Boca Raton, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Robert Thomas McCart, 33, of Boynton Beach, FL – Team Leader at CCE
• Timothy James Miller, II, 28, of Schwenksville, PA – Salesperson at CCE
• Jonathan Matthew Richardson, 28, of Lake Worth, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Kyle Evan Swinson, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Team Leader at ABC/CCE
Another CCE salesperson, Erica Crowell, 30, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, remains under indictment and is scheduled for trial on Sept. 9. Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely a formal charge against a defendant. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.Because the crimes allegedly took place in connection with telemarketing and victimized 10 or more persons over the age of 55, the maximum punishment in each case is 30 years imprisonment. The defendants could also be ordered to serve up to five years of supervised release and pay a fine of up to $250,000. Under federal law, restitution to identified victims is mandatory.
Ten of the convicted defendants have been sentenced already:
|Mar. 8, 2018||Ryan Carr||12 months + 1 day||$20,384.36|
|May 7, 2018||Joshua Cortez||18 months||$3,034.00|
|June 8, 2018||Patrick Dougherty||12 months + 1 day||$240,966.94|
|June 14, 2018||Anthony Ludena||12 months + 1 day||$176,692.26|
|June 29, 2018||Nicholas Davidson||5 years probation||$181,808.40|
|July 26, 2018||Timothy Miller||5 years probation + 200 hours community service||$127,042.06|
|Aug. 3, 2018||Tatum Espenshade||1 day + 18 months home detention||$132,683.68|
|Sept. 11, 2018||Andrew Broad||12 months + 1 day||$55,238.28|
|Sept. 20, 2018||Jonathan Richardson||12 months + 1 day||$78,638.99|
|Oct. 4, 2018||Corey Bachman||1 day||$156,806.25|
These cases are part of an ongoing investigation by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Scott A. Verseman, Ranley R. Killian, and Nathan D. Stump.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office raided CCE in June 2016 and has been cooperating with the federal investigation, in addition to bringing its own civil enforcement action against CCE under Florida state law.
The Federal Trade Commission has been working for some time to shut down illegal tech support scams. For more information about the FTC’s “2019 Tech Support Takedown,” please visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/03/ftcs-tech-support-takedown-2019.
Some consumers who were victimized by ABC or CCE / First Choice Tech Support have received additional fraudulent calls. These calls typically come from companies claiming either (a) that the technical support the victims purchased has been transferred to them and additional funds are now needed; or (b) that they can help the victims obtain a refund. Victims should be advised that no companies have been authorized to provide them with any tech support services on behalf of ABC or CCE / First Choice Tech Support, or to provide them with a refund for any previous purchases.