February 9, 2018

TelexFree conspirator sentenced to 33 months in prison

A man who led authorities to $20 million hidden in a mattress has been sentenced in federal court to 33 months of prison time for his role in the TelexFree pyramid scheme.

Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, of Brazli, was also sentenced Thursday to one year of supervised release.

He pleaded guilty in October to one count of money laundering and one count of conspiring to commit money laundering.

According to the U. S. Attorney's Office, agents raided the Marlborough TelexFree headquarters in 2014. That same day, co-founder Carlos Wanzeler fled the country, first to Canada and then to his native Brazil, but left behind millions of dollars hidden in the Greater Boston area.

Later in 2015, a intermediary working on Wanzeler's behalf began working with an associate to help him transfer the money to Brazil. The associate, who later cooperated with federal authorities, arranged with Wanzeler's representative in Brazil to launder cash through Hong Kong, convert it to Brazilian reals, and then transfer it to Brazilian accounts.

Rocha in January worked as a cash courier on Wanzeler's behalf, flying from Brazil to New York City and then later meeting with the cooperating witness in Hudson. Rocha gave the witness a suitcase containing $2.2 million of Wanzeler's proceeds from the pyramid scheme with the intent of helping him launder the cash out of the country.

Agents then followed Rocha to an apartment in Westborough where he was arrested. Authorities found $20 million in cash hidden inside a mattress box spring, according to the government.

Wanzeler and co-founder James Merrill were indicted in July 2014, but the former remains a fugitive. Merrill pleaded guilty to charges in March and was sentenced to six years in prison.

The scheme caused the loss of billions of dollars to nearly 2 million victims around the world, according to the U.S. District Attorney's Office for Massachusetts.

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