U.S. authorities found $20 million hidden in a mattress in the same Massachusetts apartment they arrested Cléber Rocha, 28. Rocha is in jail for laundering money in a multi-billion dollar fraud scheme involving the telephone internet company TelexFree.
Federal prosecutors believe Rocha acted as a messenger for the nephew of TelexFree’s Brazilian partner, Carlos Wenzeler. On December 31st, Rocha arrived in the U.S. with a suitcase of $2.2 million. He unknowingly handed the suitcase over to a collaborator with the Boston district attorney. Investigators followed Rocha to an apartment in Westborough, Massachusetts, where they subsequently arrested the Brazilian. Investigators discovered the hidden money after returning to search the apartment.
A Brazilian-American Ponzi scheme
Boston is investigating TelexFree, founded in 2012 by James Merrill, for a giant pyramid scheme. The company didn’t make much selling its services, yet generated millions through a signing fee to become “commercial promoters.” These “promoters” published online ads for the company, whose headquarters is in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
Then, in April 2014, TelexFree filed for bankruptcy with a debt of $5 billion. Prosecutors estimate up to 965,000 people bought into the pyramid scheme in the U.S., Brazil, and other countries. Altogether, their clients’ losses add up to $1.76 billion.
Authorities arrested Merrill immediately following bankruptcy and admitted to the claims of fraud later that year. Wanzeler, however, fled to Brazil where the U.S. cannot extradite him.
According to Thursday’s criminal report, someone working under Wanzeler’s nephew testified to laundering money through bank accounts in Hong Kong to Brazil. Apparently, Wanzeler was wiring down $40 million because his wife, who lives in the U.S., wanted a divorce and knew where he hid the money.