FORT WAYNE — Kelly Custer, 57, of Fort Wayne was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Holly Brady recently after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II.
Kelly Custer was sentenced to 63 months in prison, followed by 2 years of supervised release. She was ordered to pay $1,463,437.50 in restitution to the victims of her crime.
Kirsch said, “We will not tolerate extortion or preying on the trust of others, in this case elderly victims of these perpetrators. Schemes like these lead to the financial and emotional distress of victims. My office, in coordination with our law enforcement partners, will aggressively prosecute individuals who harass and torment elderly victims with these egregious schemes.”
“Today’s sentence sends a strong message to scammers such as Ms. Custer that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will do everything in our power to hold accountable those who prey upon some of our most vulnerable citizens – in this case hard working seniors who thought they were helping a friend in need and that their own lives, and those of their family, were in danger if they didn’t,” said Grant Mendenhall, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division.
According to documents filed in this case, on March 19, 2015, a victim couple reported to law enforcement that they were being extorted by the mafia. The victims provided information detailing an extortion scheme that started in 2007 when they lived in Fort Wayne and continued after their move to Florida.
According to the victims, the extortion began after they were informed by Kelly Custer that she and her family faced death threats from the mafia and she needed help paying them off to protect herself and her family.
The scheme then evolved when Kelly Custer then convinced the victims that their lives, their friends’ and families’ lives as well as her life would be in jeopardy if they did not pay the debt to the mafia. The victims initially received all the information concerning the extortion through Kelly Custer, in that she relayed the threats and demands to them personally. After the victims moved to Florida, however the threats from Kelly Custer continued in the form of text messages, causing the victims to fear the messages came from actual mafia members. In February of 2015, the victims were informed that Kelly Custer had been killed as a result of problems she had with the mafia; however they continued to receive threatening text messages from Kelly Custer’s phone by persons identifying themselves as members of the mafia.
The victims made the demanded payments primarily to Kelly Custer, but also directed payments to three other co-defendants, Kelly Custer’s children, on numerous occasions as instructed in the threatening text messages. The victims reported that in response to the threatening communications, they had paid “the mafia” approximately $1.5 million over the past seven years, and approximately $250,000-$300,000 dollars since moving to Florida. According to the victims, in response to threats they usually paid between $3,000 and $10,000 at a time and on at least one occasion they paid $50,000 after receiving a threatening message indicating that, if they did not make that payment, a friend’s daughter would be killed.
Co-defendants William Custer, Jr., Ashley Custer and Sidney Custer were previously sentenced following their pleas of guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and each was ordered to repay restitution to the victims in the amounts of $119,127.99; $118,583.16; and $14,399.78, respectively.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tina L. Nommay.