Three men accused of conspiring with others outside the country to steal money from Inland Empire residents and people elsewhere in the U.S. by claiming they were federal agents collecting fines connected to warrants were arrested Thursday on federal charges.

Anuj M. Patel, 30, and Elmer Miranda Barrios, 35, both of Lake Elsinore, along with Barrios’ cousin, 36-year-old William Margarito Barrios of Mexico, were indicted this month for alleged conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. William Barrios is also charged with being an illegal alien in the United States after deportation.

The trio were slated to make a joint initial court appearance Thursday afternoon at U.S. District Court in Riverside.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that between April 2019 and March of this year, the defendants engaged in a telephone-based scheme targeting individuals in their late 50s and older, relying on assistance from unnamed co-conspirators in India.

Prosecutors allege the defendants, posing as federal law enforcement agents, would contact victims and inform them that they were at risk of being arrested and having their assets seized because they had been implicated in unspecified acts of fraud, as a result of identity theft, and there were outstanding warrants with their names on them.

“The (conspirators) further told the victims that, in order to clear the warrants, they should withdraw their savings and send cash by mail to other members of the scheme,” according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office statement. “The victims were ordered to send the parcels through shipping companies that allowed parcel recipients to pick up a parcel so long as the recipients had identification matching the names listed on the parcels as the addressees.”

Pickup locations were in Riverside, Los Angeles and San Diego counties, prosecutors said.

One victim, identified only as an 82-year-old Inland Empire resident, was persuaded to send $10,000 to an address in Hemet. Other victims sent varying amounts of money, and the ill-gotten gains totaled $541,420, according to the government. Just over 50 people were victimized.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigators, the Social Security Administration, Murrieta and Fullerton police, San Bernardino County and Los Angeles County sheriff’s departments, the Brownsville, Texas, Police Department and nearly a dozen other municipal and county law enforcement agencies nationwide were involved in the investigation.

If convicted, the defendants could face up to 22 years in federal prison.

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