Utah man, Travis Peterson who operated fraudulent veteran charities sentenced to federal prison
(STL.News) Travis Peterson has been sentenced for mail fraud while operating a fraudulent charity scheme. For nearly six years, he used millions of robocalls to urge people—often targeting senior citizens—to donate vehicles and other valuable items by falsely claiming their donations would go to veterans’ charities and were tax-deductible. In reality, veterans received nothing, and Peterson pocketed more than $500,000.
“Peterson shamelessly defrauded thousands of people while supposedly helping veterans,” said U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “Fraudsters rely on the goodwill of unsuspecting citizens to perpetrate their schemes. With our law enforcement partners, we will track them down and bring them to justice.”
“This defendant preyed on older citizens who were trusting and unknowingly fell for a scam that was for his financial benefit,” said Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division. “Postal Inspectors will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in our relentless pursuit to combat elder financial exploitation and tracking down unscrupulous schemers to bring them to justice.”
“Peterson deserves his time in federal prison for lining his pockets with money that he told donors would benefit our veterans,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Charity scams and illegal robocalls are a toxic mix that we’ll continue to target with the help of our law enforcement partners.”
According to U.S. Attorney Erskine, the charges and other information presented in court: Between approximately April 2012 and July 2018, Travis Peterson registered nearly a dozen corporate entities in Nevada, Michigan, and Utah. Each of these companies was purportedly a tax-exempt charitable organization that Peterson established to help veterans and their families. None of these companies, however, was an actual charity with tax exempt status. Peterson in fact never owned or operated a single charity that benefitted veterans.
Using millions of robocalls, as well as multiple websites and newspaper advertisements, Peterson defrauded thousands of people around the country into believing they were donating vehicles and other property to benefit veterans. Peterson and those working at his direction falsely informed would-be donors that their donations would be used to benefit veterans and were tax deductible. In order to execute his fraud, Peterson contracted with third-party auto auction companies to handle the logistics of acquiring and selling the donated vehicles. After the vehicles were sold, the auction companies would remit any proceeds to bank accounts controlled by Peterson. None of these funds went to the benefit of veterans. Peterson instead used them for own personal expenses, including to pay for online dating services and to purchase an all-terrain vehicle. As a result, Peterson defrauded donors of more than $500,000.
The FTC had previously filed a complaint against Peterson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah arising from this same fraudulent scheme. On April 1, 2019, the court entered a stipulated order and judgment which permanently banned Peterson from soliciting charitable contributions and from using robocalls, as well as prohibiting him from making misrepresentations that a charitable contribution is tax-deductible. The order also imposed a $541,032.10 monetary judgment against Peterson and required that he forfeit 88 vehicles. The FTC’s investigation of Peterson is part of a broader initiative by the agency to combat illegal robocalls.
Travis Peterson, 54, of West Ephraim, Utah, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross to three years and five months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $541,032.10. He was originally charged by a federal grand jury in December 2020 with multiple counts of mail and wire fraud. On November 4, 2021, he pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Atlanta and Cleveland Regional Offices of the Federal Trade Commission provided invaluable contributions in this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex R. Sistla prosecuted the case.