Wednesday, Oct. 15, 1997 | 10:02 a.m.
Fifteen people have pleaded guilty in federal court in Las Vegas to a telemarketing scheme that bilked elderly people out of $4.3 million.
The defendants were the owners and sales representatives at United Holdings Inc., predecessor company of American Freedom Association, both of which operated out of Las Vegas.
In a plea bargain, defendants Christopher Vener, Janet Vener, John Roberts and William Ruck each pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and money laundering. The other defendants pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.
In turn, they will cooperate with federal agents in other telemarketing cases. They also have agreed to surrender property, including automobiles, and make restitution.
According to the U.S. attorney's office, the scam occurred between June 1993 and July 1994. The defendants called people around the country and made promises of a major award, knowing that the victims would receive a cheap ring as their prize, the U.S. attorney's office said.
To collect the award, victims had to pay an "acquisition fee," authorities said, noting that most of the fees ranged from $1,000-$2,000, but some victims gave as much as $30,000.
Authorities said the defendants knew the victims were elderly and had fallen victim to such schemes in the past.