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Financial Crimes

Idahoan sentenced for role in Nigerian financial scheme

BOISE, Idaho - A Magic Valley woman who mailed dozens of counterfeit money orders and cashier's checks worth nearly a million dollars was sentenced today to 29 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release for her role in a scheme uncovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Joyce Marie Rucks, 57, of Twin Falls, Idaho, pleaded guilty in July to one count of mail fraud. She was also ordered to pay $26,625 in restitution to some of the victims she defrauded.

The investigation into Rucks began in late March when officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Memphis, Tenn., intercepted a Federal Express package from Nigeria that was addressed to Rucks. The package contained 288 counterfeit money orders and 80 phony cashier's checks with a total value of more than $550,000.

HSI agents with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Twin Falls Police Department tracked the package to Rucks. Authorities served a federal search warrant at her residence in early April.

Rucks admitted she used express mail envelopes from the post office and other carriers to send out counterfeit money orders and cashier's checks to hundreds of people across the United States. She received the names and pre-made address labels from Nigeria.

Others involved in the scheme enticed unsuspecting victims by telephone or e-mail to cash the checks or money orders they received from Rucks. They were directed to wire or mail the proceeds to an overseas account.

The victims were also offered seemingly legitimate business opportunities such as becoming secret shoppers or participating in "earn while you learn" activities. It was only when the victims were held liable for the counterfeit transactions that they learned of the scheme.

Although Rucks did not receive proceeds from her illegal actions, she admitted that the items she mailed were counterfeit. Ultimately, federal agents seized $980,000 in phony checks and money orders in her possession and she admitted to previously mailing an additional $240,000 in fake financial documents.

"Let this case serve as a reminder that there are consequences for taking advantage of an unsuspecting public and exploiting our nation's financial system," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Idaho. "We will continue to use our unique investigate authorities to uncover illegal financial transactions and hold offenders accountable for their crimes."

The U.S. Attorney's Office advises the public to exercise caution in any situation that enlists them to cash checks or money orders and then forward the proceeds to a third party. This is especially true where directions are given to wire funds to foreign countries.