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Sweepstakes Copywriter Receives 36-Month Prison Sentence for Role in Direct Mail Scheme

One of the early guilty pleas in the government’s crack-down on allegedly fraudulent sweepstakes and astrology direct marketing campaigns has received a 36-month prison sentence. This sentence against a supplier reflects the serious nature of the government’s investigation into these matters.

Montana resident Thomas Ressler was accused of and pleaded guilty to designing dozens of fraudulent solicitations used in an international mail-fraud scheme that allegedly defrauded thousands of elderly victims. Ressler had been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud under 18 USC §1349.  According to the government, between 2012 and September 2016, Ressler created over 200 sweepstakes and prize-notification letters for “Richard Cullen” that falsely conveyed to recipients that they could claim cash or other prizes by forwarding a processing or delivery fee. The letters were drafted to appear as though they were being sent by official entities, although the entity names were in fact fictitious. Ressler’s co-conspirators, Ryan Young and Ercan Barka, then mailed these solicitations to consumers throughout the United States and several foreign countries. Young and Barka have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and are currently awaiting sentencing.

Takeaway: This lengthy sentence arising from a guilty plea against another direct mail supplier is likely just the beginning of additional criminal actions in the wake of the September 2016 and February 2018 enforcement actions. Direct mail marketers utilizing sweepstakes or other prize-type promotions and their suppliers should take these matters very seriously.