A Brazilian money launderer who stashed nearly $20 million in cash in a box spring has been sentenced to almost three years in a federal prison.
Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, was sentenced Thursday in a Boston federal court after pleading guilty in October to money laundering and conspiracy charges.
The money was found in Westborough in January 2017 during an investigation into TelexFree Inc., a defunct internet telecom company claiming to sell voice-over-internet telephone service that prosecutors say was actually a billion-dollar pyramid scheme.
TelexFree made little to no money selling its service while taking in millions of dollars from thousands of people who paid to sign up to be ‘promoters’ and post ads online for it, prosecutors said.
The company, which was founded by U.S. citizen James Merrill and Brazilian national Carlos Wanzeler, collapsed in 2014.
It inflicted more than $3billion in losses on nearly 1.89million people worldwide,
Merrill was arrested in 2014. He was sentenced in March to six years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges.
Wanzeler fled to Brazil in 2014, where he cannot be extradited from, leaving behind tens of millions of dollars he laundered from TelexFree accounts, prosecutors said.
Rocha was a courier for a fugitive TelexFree executive who came to retrieve the money to move it out of the U.S., authorities said.
In 2015, Leonardo Casula Francisco, Wanzeler’s nephew, asked someone who became a cooperating witness to help transfer cash generated from the scheme that Wanzeler had hidden in the greater Boston area out of the United States, prosecutors said.
The pair agreed someone would be sent to the United States to deliver the money in increments to the witness, who would send it to accounts in Hong Kong where it would be transferred to Brazil, prosecutors said.
In December, Casula sent Rocha to the United States to deliver money to the witness, an indictment said.
This witness was in fact cooperating with authorities working on the case, Telegram.com notes.
After a January 4 meeting in a parking lot where Rocha gave the cooperating witness $2.2million in a suitcase, federal agents followed Rocha to a Westborough, Massachusetts, apartment complex, prosecutors said.
They said that after Rocha was arrested, he helped agents locate the apartment, where they found roughly $20million hidden under a mattress.
His charges each carried up to 20 years in prison, but prosecutors previously agreed to recommend a 40-month term based on his cooperation in the case.
His sentence ended up being 33 months in prison followed by a year of supervised release.