Posted on: August 22, 2023, 11:48h.
Last updated on: August 22, 2023, 11:48h.
A Las Vegas-based telemarketing call center operator has been indicted for fraudulent fundraising activities, following an investigation by federal authorities. The suspect, Richard Zeitlin, 53, was arrested at his home on Thursday, according to reports.
Zeitlin has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing, wire fraud in connection with telemarketing, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice, according to Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Another individual, Robert Piaro, 73, from Wisconsin and treasurer of four political action committees (PACs), was also arrested and charged with wire fraud and mail fraud.
Piaro is accused of raising over $28 million from hundreds of thousands of donors in his role as PAC treasurer.
“Richard Zeitlin and Robert Piaro lied to donors who thought they were giving to groups that were helping veterans, aiding law enforcement officers, and fighting breast cancer,” said Williams.
Williams added, “Zeitlin and Piaro allegedly exploited these important causes and the good intentions of everyday citizens to steal millions of dollars in small donations. Today’s arrests demonstrate this Office’s commitment to ensuring that those who exploit charitable causes and political action committees for their own personal gain will be held responsible for their crimes.”
Between 2017 and 2020, the Zeitlin Call Centers, operated by Richard Zeitlin, reportedly defrauded donors by providing false and misleading information about the recipients of their donations, according to the statement.
Call center workers allegedly changed call scripts to deceive donors into believing they were donating to a charity instead of a PAC, said Williams.
The PACs involved in the scheme were Americans for the Cure of Breast Cancer, the Association for Emergency Responders & Firefighters, the US Veterans Assistance Foundation, and Standing By Veterans.
Potential Prison Sentence
If convicted, Zeitlin and Piaro each face a maximum sentence of either 20 years or 30 years in prison for the charges brought against them.
The Zeitlin Call Centers have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charities and PACs throughout their history.
Prosecutors allege that after May 2022, Zeitlin instructed his employees to delete electronic messages, indicating an attempt to obstruct justice.
The indictment also reveals that the Zeitlin entities retained a significant percentage of the funds raised by the call center, typically around 90 percent. The remaining funds were intended for the designated charity or PAC.
Zeitlin allegedly advised his future clients to establish PACs rather than charities due to less restrictive regulations, according to the indictment.
In 2021, donors filed a class action lawsuit against Zeitlin in Pennsylvania, following a report from the Center for Public Integrity.
The lawsuit accuses Zeitlin and his businesses of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by diverting donations as profits.