Boca man’s sweepstakes prize: 6.5 years in prison

More than 100,000 people across the United States and other countries were ripped off by a sweepstakes mail fraud scheme that is sending four men to prison, including one from Palm Beach County, prosecutors said.

The total haul rivaled a small lottery jackpot: More than $25 million.

The men falsely notified people by mail that they had won a substantial prize, federal officials said. Letters claimed recipients just needed to pay a fee ranging from $20 to $50 to redeem their winnings.

But the defendants pocketed the money sent to fictitious companies, according to Benjamin G. Greenberg, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and partners including the Federal Trade Commission.

Marcus Pradel, 41, of Boca Raton received a sentence of 78 months for his role Tuesday, officials said.

Sentenced to 84 months each were Matthew Pisoni, 44, of Fort Lauderdale and Victor Ramirez, 38, of Aventura.  John Leon, 50, of Fort Lauderdale received 24 months. Attempts to seek comment through attorneys were not immediately successful.

The case serves as a reminder of a big red flag that should make consumers realize something’s not quite right when amazing news of cash winnings comes their way.

Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay to receive a prize, the FTC advises.

Con artists can use legitimate-sounding or familiar corporate names and come up with all kinds of excuses that may have a ring of plausibility: It’s for taxes, or to insure delivery.

But when it comes to prize scams, the agency says, never pay to get paid.

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