ST. GEORGE, UT – Frank Gene Powell, age 51, of Hurricane, Utah, the lead defendant in a significant federal elder fraud case targeting an 80-year-old widow in Washington, Utah, will serve 10 years in federal prison and pay $273,849.20 in restitution to the victim of the fraud scheme. U.S. District Judge David Nuffer imposed the sentence Thursday morning in St. George.
Powell pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, two counts of destruction of records in a federal investigation, concealment of a document or object in an attempt to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding, and tampering with a witness.
Powell, who is in custody, will also forfeit two vehicles and be on supervised release for three years following his release from federal prison.
Powell was on state parole at the time of his federal crimes after serving nearly 30 years in state prison for murder. While he was in prison, he received a 1-to-15 year sentence for sexually assaulting an inmate.
As a part of his plea agreement, Frank Powell admitted that from around March 2019 and continuing until about Feb. 6, 2020, he conspired with others to devise a fraud scheme with the specific intent to obtain money or property by means of fraudulent representations or promises. He agreed with his codefendants to engage in a scheme to defraud the victim by soliciting money and assets in exchange for false promises to perform work for the victim. He also admitted he engaged in a fake romantic relationship with the victim as a part of his scheme to defraud her.
He admitted that he purchased a 2019 GMC Sierra using money he received as a part of his scheme to defraud the victim. Using money derived from criminal conduct is money laundering. Several of the counts he pleaded guilty to relate to efforts he took to impede and obstruct the investigation of the case, including concealing cellular phones and money.
Powell also pleaded guilty to witness tampering admitting that in November 2019, he attempted to stop the victim from communicating with law enforcement officers investigating the case. Through written correspondence and phone calls, Powell and his codefendant, Faye Renteria, age 42, of Hurricane, made misleading statements and attempted to get the victim to assist them in avoiding prosecution.
“Powell is a career criminal who has fended off decades of rehabilitative attempts in the Utah state criminal justice system. He’s a convicted murderer and sexual predator, who has now turned his criminal efforts to elder fraud while on state parole,” U.S. Attorney for Utah John W. Huber said today. “With these guilty pleas, he stands convicted of unconscionable crimes against a senior member of the St. George community. A 10-year sentence is very appropriate in this case and will help ensure that Utah will not fall victim to his crimes again.”
“This crime is especially heinous because Frank Powell not only deceived and defrauded the victim, he made it a family affair,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Haertel of the Salt Lake City FBI. “As a society, we should be looking out for the elderly, not exploiting them. Crimes like this will be aggressively investigated, and we encourage the public to immediately report any fraud to law enforcement or the FBI.”
Eight defendants were charged in a 10-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in January. The indictment alleged the defendants, who have family relationships, conspired to obtain money and assets from the victim in exchange for false promises to perform work on her property.
The indictment alleges that starting around March 2019 through October 2019, several of the defendants began soliciting payments from the victim by offering to perform routine repairs and odd jobs on her property. The victim created a list of requested repairs, such as painting the exterior of the house, resurfacing the driveway, doing yard work, hammering protruding nails on the roof, fixing a door handle on a car, removing grease spots on the driveway, and installing carpet on an outdoor deck. To further advance the scheme, Frank Powell engaged in romance fraud by enticing the victim to enter into a romantic relationship. He used the romantic relationship to manipulate the victim into giving him money and assets.
According to the indictment, most of the jobs they promised to do were never completed or the quality of work was extremely poor and fell well below any expectation of professionally done work. The victim paid the defendants at least $273,849.20, both indirectly and directly, for this work.
The indictment included one count of wire fraud conspiracy, five counts of money laundering conspiracy – spending, two counts of destruction or concealment of records and tangible objects in a federal investigation, one count of concealment of a document or object, and one count of tampering with a witness or victim.
Frank Powell’s mother and codefendant, Gloria Jean Powell, age 74, of St. George, was sentenced to time served on May 1, 2020, after pleading guilty to one count of concealment of a document or object, admitting she concealed or attempted to conceal U.S. currency with the intent to impair an FBI investigation. She admitted she aided and abetted her son, Frank Powell, and her daughter, Angela McDuffie, age 53, of Lehi, in the conduct. She also agreed to forfeit a 2010 Toyota Venza as a part of the resolution of her case.
Sentencing is set for July 15, 2020, for Renteria, who pleaded guilty May 7, 2020, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, two counts of money laundering, two counts of destruction of records or tangible objects designed to impede the FBI’s investigation in the case, and witness tampering. Among other things, she admitted she engaged in misleading conduct involving the victim in the case in an attempt to prevent or delay her from communicating with law enforcement regarding the commission of a federal crime.
Renteria faces sentences of up to 20 years for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, up to 10 years for each count of money laundering, up to 20 years for each count of destruction of records or tangible objects in a federal investigation, and up to 10 years for the witness tampering conviction. Renteria is in custody.
Bubby Mern Shepherd, age 58, of Lodi, California, and Rocky James Powell Mott, age 40, of Hurricane, also have entered guilty pleas. Shepherd pleaded guilty last week to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Mott pleaded guilty Wednesday to the same count. Plea agreements for Shepherd and Mott, who are both in custody, include a stipulated sentence of 21 months in prison for the conviction. The sentence is subject to the approval of the court.
Cases are pending against McDuffie, Terrence Quincy Powell, age 24, of St. George, and Martell Taz Powell, age 25, of Cedar City. A Sept. 22, 2020, trial date is set in the case.
Combatting elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors is a key priority of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah. Elder abuse is a serious crime against some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, affecting at least 10 percent of older Americans every year. Together with federal, state, local and tribal partners, the Department of Justice is committed to combatting all forms of elder abuse and financial exploitation through enforcement actions, training and resources, research, victim services, and public awareness. This holistic and robust response demonstrates the Department’s unwavering dedication to fighting for justice for older Americans.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Utah are prosecuting the case. The FBI is investigating the case. Agents with Utah Adult Probation and Parole have made signification contributions to the investigation.