Brazilian Who Led US to $17M in Mattress Box Spring Gets Prison

Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, whose arrest on January 4, 2017 led US authorities to discover $17 million hidden under a mattress (Image courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts)
Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, whose arrest on January 4, 2017 led US authorities to discover $17 million hidden under a mattress (Image courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Boston and the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts  announced the sentencing in federal court on Thursday of a Brazilian national on charges in a $20 million dollar money-laundering international pyramid scheme based in the Boston area.

HSI Acting Special Agent in Charge, Michael Shea, along with United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, whose office prosecuted the case, announced that Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin to 33 months in prison and one year of supervised release.

In October 2017, Rocha pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit money laundering and one count of money laundering.

“This sentencing serves as a real warning to those who delude themselves into thinking they can defraud Americans and flagrantly violate U.S. financial laws without consequences,” said Michael Shea, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston.

“This investigation and successful prosecution, accomplished through a years-long team effort, highlights HSI’s continued emphasis to dismantle large scale money laundering organizations that utilize our financial institutions to defraud the American public.”

After a search warrant executed in April 2014 at the headquarters of TelexFree Inc., a massive pyramid scheme based in Marlborough, Massachussetts that caused billions of dollars in losses to nearly two million victims worldwide, Carlos Wanzeler, one of the founders of the company, fled first to Canada and then to Brazil, his native country.

Carlos Wanzeler
Carlos Wanzeler

In his haste to flee the U.S.,Wanzeler left millions of dollars hidden in the greater Boston area.

In 2015, an intermediary working on Wanzeler’s behalf contacted an associate for help transferring the money from the United States to Brazil.

The associate, who later cooperated with federal authorities, arranged with Wanzeler’s representative in Brazil to launder cash through Hong Kong, convert it to Brazilian Reals, and then transfer it to Brazilian accounts.

In January 2017, Rocha, working as a courier for Wanzeler’s representative in Brazil, flew from Brazil to New York City.

Rocha later met the cooperating witness in Hudson, Massachussetts where Rocha gave him a suitcase containing $2.2 million of Wanzeler’s hidden TelexFree money, intending that the cooperating witness help launder the cash out of the United States.

Approximately $17 million found under a mattress in connection with an investigation related to what authorities say was a pyramid scheme is shown in this photo following a raid in Westborough, Massachusetts. (Image courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Rocha was arrested after being followed to an apartment in Westborough, Massachussetts which was later searched and resulted in the seizure of approximately $20 million in cash found hidden in a mattress box spring.

Wanzeler and TelexFree co-founder James Merrill were indicted in July 2014 on charges that they operated TelexFree as a massive pyramid scheme.

ICE bannerMerrill pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced in March 2017 to six years in prison. Wanzeler remains a fugitive.