EAST ST. LOUIS, ILL. – Two former owners of a fraudulent tech support business known as Client Care Experts, LLC (“Client Care”) are going to prison for a long time. Yesterday, in federal district court in East St. Louis, Illinois, Michael Austin Seward, 32, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Kevin James McCormick, 47, of Hollywood, Florida, were sentenced to prison terms of 113 months and 132 months respectively. Both men previously pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Seward was the founder and chief executive officer of Client Care, while McCormick served as another high-level executive for the Boynton Beach, Florida company, which was formerly known as First Choice Tech Support. For about 15 months, Seward and McCormick also operated a similar tech support business called ABC Repair Tech (ABC), located in Costa Rica.
According to court documents, the defendants purchased pop-up advertisements that appeared 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 convinced 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 discounts, such as senior citizen and veterans discounts.
From 2013 to 2016, the two companies – Client Care 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.
As part of their sentence, the court ordered both Seward and McCormick to pay over $11.5 million in restitution to the victims of their fraud scheme.
“As the court observed, there is a growing gap between our ever-increasing reliance on technology and the average person’s understanding of how that technology works,” said U.S. Attorney Weinhoeft. “These men took advantage of that gap to line their own pockets. What’s even more disturbing is that many of the victims were senior citizens. Following Attorney General Barr’s Elder Justice Initiative, we want would-be scammers to know that if they reach out and defraud people in southern Illinois, we’re going to haul them into federal court in this district and hold them accountable for their crimes.”
Over the past three years, 17 other employees of Client Care 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 Client Care
Cory Steven Bachman, 26, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at Client Care
Andrew Douglas Broad, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Director of Training at Client Care
Ryan Stocker Carr, 24, of Mount Laurel, NJ – Team Leader at Client Care
Joshua Dennis Cortez, 38, of Lake Worth, FL – Director of Training at Client Care
Erica Marie Crowell, 30, of Maple Shade, NJ – Salesperson at Client Care
Nicholas James Davidson, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at Client Care
Patrick M. Dougherty, 36, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at Client Care
Tatum Elyse Espenshade, 27, of West Palm Beach, FL – Salesperson at Client Care
Eric M. Iannaccone, 33, of Monroe Township, NJ – Sales Manager at Client Care
Michael Cary Lawing, 34, of Lincolnton, NC – CEO of ABC
Anthony Vincent Ludena, 30, of Boca Raton, FL – Salesperson at Client Care
Robert Thomas McCart, 33, of Boynton Beach, FL – Team Leader at Client Care
Timothy James Miller, II, 28, of Schwenksville, PA – Salesperson at Client Care
Jonathan Matthew Richardson, 28, of Lake Worth, FL – Salesperson at Client Care
Kyle Evan Swinson, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Team Leader at ABC/Client Care
Grant Clark Wasik, 36, of Oakland Park, FL – Vice President and Sales Manager of Client Care
All 17 of those defendants have already been sentenced, as follows:
|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
|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 + 400 hours community service||$156,806.25|
|Oct. 8, 2019||Grant Wasik||125 months||$10,619,430.95|
|Oct. 10, 2019||Joseph Aievoli||1 day + 200 hours community service||$106,355.82|
|Oct. 15, 2019||Michael Lawing||18 months||$266,501.94|
|Oct. 23, 2019||Eric Iannaccone||12 months + 1 day||(pending)|
|Dec. 10, 2019||Robert McCart||Time served
100 hours community service
|Dec. 10, 2019||Kyle Swinson||1 day + 400 hours community service||$7,589.31|
|Jan. 8, 2020||Erica Crowell||Time served
12 months home detention
These cases were part of an investigation by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service. The cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Scott A. Verseman, Ranley R. Killian, and Nathan D. Stump. The Florida Attorney General’s Office raided Client Care in June 2016 and has been cooperating with the federal investigation, in addition to bringing its own civil enforcement action against the fraudulent company 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 Client Care / 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 CLIENT CARE / First Choice Tech Support, or to provide them with a refund for any previous purchases.