2 men arrested, accused of telemarketing fraud that cheated people of millions of dollars

By LARRY NEUMEISTER Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Two men were arrested in Nevada and Wisconsin on Thursday on charges that they carried out separate telemarketing scams that cheated people across the country of tens of millions of dollars.

Criminal charges in Manhattan federal court were lodged against Richard Zeitlin, 53, of Las Vegas, and Robert Piaro, 73, of Fredonia, Wisconsin.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said the men lied to donors by falsely letting them believe most of their donations were going to help veterans, aid law enforcement officers and fight breast cancer.

“Instead, Zeitlin and Piaro allegedly exploited these important causes and the good intentions of everyday citizens to steal millions of dollars in small donations,” Williams said in a news release.

Lawyers for Zeitlin and Piaro did not immediately respond to emailed requests from The Associated Press seeking comment.

According to an indictment in New York, Zeitlin’s businesses pocketed 90 percent of the funds that were donated from 2017 to 2020 as a result of telemarketing campaigns.

The indictment said that Zeitlin “Call Centers” for decades had raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charities and political action committees by making hundreds of thousands of calls to donors and potential donors.

Although the majority of fundraising campaigns focused on charities, Zeitlin began encouraging prospective clients to operate PACs rather than charities in 2017 to dodge regulations that pertain to charities but not PACs, the indictment said.

Beginning at least in 2017, Zeitlin began using the centers to defraud individuals by falsely describing how their money would be spent and the nature of the organizations that would receive money, it said.

Authorities said Zeitlin directed employees to mislead donors into thinking they were donating money to charities rather than PACs and that their money would go toward an organization rather than the telemarketers.

Over a five-year period from 2017 to December 2022, Piaro made false statements and misrepresentations to donors to raise over $28 million for PACs he owned including Americans for the Cure of Breast Cancer, the Association for Emergency Responders & Firefighters, the US Veterans Assistance Foundation and Standing by Veterans, an indictment said.

The indictment said Piaro directed a fundraising effort that misrepresented to donors that donations would be used to advance specific legislation, educate lawmakers and conduct and fund research.

Zeitlin was charged with two conspiracy counts, wire fraud and obstruction of justice charges, which carry a potential penalty of up to 100 years in prison.

Piaro was charged with wire and mail fraud, charges which carry a potential penalty of up to 60 years in prison.