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National Elder Fraud Hotline

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June 16, 2022Baton Rouge, LA, United StatesFinancial Crimes

Baton Rouge man sentenced for defrauding elderly veteran following HSI investigation

BATON ROUGE, La. – An investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baton Rouge led to a 33-month sentence for a local man convicted of wire fraud in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Shawn Phillips, 44, received a federal sentence to run consecutively to his pending state charges. The Court further sentenced Phillips to three years of supervised release following his term of imprisonment and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $50,718.

According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, Phillips befriended the victim, then took advantage of that friendship to steal more than $50,718 over a 16-month period – January of 2020 to May of 2021. Phillips convinced the victim to loan him the money by claiming he needed to borrow money until receiving a large inheritance. Yet, unbeknownst to the victim, at no point was Phillips expecting any inheritance.

Even when Phillips left Baton Rouge and moved to Georgia, he continued his scheme, convincing the victim to send 43 wire transfers from Baton Rouge to Georgia to fund his lifestyle there. Throughout the course of the scheme, Phillips continued his fraudulent assertion that he was waiting on an inheritance, even at points claiming to need additional money from the victim to get the ‘inheritance’ out of the court system.

The case was investigated by HSI Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jessica M.P. Thornhill, who also serves as the Elder Justice Coordinator for the Middle District of Louisiana.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aims to combat elder financial exploitation by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors; educate older adults on how to identify scams and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud; and promote greater coordination with law enforcement partners.

Elderly individuals, including recently widowed or divorced seniors, are frequently targets of romance or financial scammers due to their vulnerabilities and access to cash. Bank transfers and payments sent in connection with romance scams accounted for nearly $31 million in 2020, with older adults accounting for about a third of the dollars lost. Romance scammers reportedly took an additional $12 million total in cryptocurrency from older adults.

To combat criminal organizations involved in romance scams, HSI works closely with other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components, such as the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the DHS Office of the Inspector General and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, as well as the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). By operating in the United States, transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) pose significant multi-jurisdictional challenges to U.S. law enforcement.

To combat this, HSI and its partner agencies have worked with the Department of Justice to produce a coordinated enforcement and prosecution effort. This effort involves law enforcement working jointly with prosecutors, our foreign law enforcement partners, and the financial industry. This collaboration has led to a more cooperative law enforcement effort that will eventually lead to the disruption and dismantlement of the TCOs that victimize our senior citizens.

If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline – call 1-833-FRAUD-11 or 1-866-347-2423 to report suspicious criminal activity, including possible romance scams, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.

Updated: 06/16/2022