U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Sweepstakes Scammers Sentenced

What was the judge thinking when he sentenced four men to prison for a $25 million sweepstakes scam?

The prosecutors asked for a 20-year sentence for Matthew Pisoni and heavy sentences for his co-conspirators as well. But U.S. Judge Darrin Gayles sent Pisoni, the ring-leader, to prison for seven years and his co-defendants for lesser times.

Was it out of sympathy for Pisoni, who lost a son to a drug overdose after the conviction? Was it the miscarriage Pisoni's wife suffered after the trial? Or was it the prosecutors, who used a co-defendant to spy on Pisoni's attorneys?

Prosecution Spies

The judge had ripped the prosecutors in November for using John Leon in their strategy. Leon had pleaded guilty early in the case and "cooperated" with the government.

According to reports, the prosecutors used him as a mole in the defense camp. Gayles said they should have -- at a minimum -- run it by their bosses first.

"I don't know what's happening at the U.S. Attorney's Office," he said. "This is the latest of a series of incidents that is affecting the credibility of this office. There's a problem here that needs to be rectified in some way."

Gayles solved the problem by excluding Leon's testimony. And he didn't forget it when he sentenced the defendants.

Mail Fraud

The judge didn't acknowledge Pisoni's troubles at sentencing. In addition to the prison time, the judge ordered the defendants to pay restitution to the victims.

The scammers sent mailers, falsely telling people they had won substantial prizes. More than 100,000 victims paid $20 to $50 each to redeem their winnings.

"This whole business scheme, I mean it's designed for fraud," the judge said. "There were no winners, there was never a payout."

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