If you’ve ever wondered just how much money you could get away with hiding under a mattress, federal agents in Massachusetts may have an answer for you.
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately $20 million in cash was found hidden inside a box spring at a Westborough, Mass., apartment and seized earlier this month, and Brazilian national Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, was arrested in connection with conspiring to launder proceeds of the massive TelexFree pyramid scheme.
NPR reports that Rocha admitted to federal agents that he was in the U.S. to facilitate a money transfer to a founder of the company.
Rocha appeared before Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein of the U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, on Jan. 5 and was charged with one count of conspiring to commit money laundering. He was detained following his court appearance.
According to the criminal complaint, federal agents searched the Marlborough, Mass., headquarters of TelexFree, Inc., in April 2014. That same day, Carlos Wanzeler, one of the founders of the company, allegedly fled to his native Brazil. Wanzeler and TelexFree co-founder James Merrill were indicted in July 2014 on charges that they operated TelexFree as a massive pyramid scheme; Merrill pleaded guilty to those charges in October 2016 and is currently awaiting trial.
According to NPR, court documents allege that TelexFree, which sold voice-over-Internet phone service, “was a really massive pyramid scheme” that made “little or no money from selling VOIP, but took in millions of dollars from people signing up to receive financial bonuses from advertising and recruiting.”
When the company failed, court documents state, “about 965,225 people lost money,” and their losses totaled about $1,755,927,755.
In the aftermath of the company’s collapse, its executives in Brazil allegedly came up with a plan to retrieve the money left behind in the United States. This involved Wanzeler’s nephew contacting an associate for help in transferring the money, which was hidden in the Boston area, to Brazil. That same associate became a cooperating witness for the government and led federal agents to Rocha, who was acting as a courier for Wanzeler’s nephew.
Rocha reportedly flew from Brazil to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City on New Year’s Eve for a money hand-off, and he met “a cooperating witness” at a restaurant in Hudson, Mass., on Jan. 4 and gave him $2.2 million in a suitcase.
Agents followed Rocha to an apartment complex in Westborough, where they found the stockpile of cash in the box spring after searching the apartment.
Rocha is facing a maximum of 20 years in prison, and NPR reports that on Monday a federal magistrate said he posed a flight risk and ordered him detained until trial.