WESTBOROUGH, Mass.—About $20 million in cash that was hidden inside a box spring in a Massachusetts apartment has been seized as part of a wide-ranging investigation into an internet telecom company that was actually a massive international pyramid scheme, federal prosecutors said.
The cash was found Wednesday inside a Westborough apartment by investigators who had tailed a Brazilian man from New York. That man, Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, was charged with conspiring to commit money laundering and was held after an appearance in federal court Thursday pending a detention hearing scheduled for next week. His lawyer could not immediately be reached.
The cash seizure was made in connection with an investigation into TelexFree, a Marlborough, Massachusetts-based company that purportedly sold VOIP telephone service.
TelexFree had few customers and made most of its revenue from people buying into the company with a promise of payouts for posting online ads for it, prosecutors have said. They were paid with money from new recruits, often friends and family of earlier investors.
Although initially aimed at Brazilian immigrants to Massachusetts, authorities allege almost 1 million people worldwide were swindled out of nearly $1.8 billion.
TelexFree filed for bankruptcy in 2014, its assets frozen, and its two principals were indicted on federal charges of wire fraud and conspiracy.
One of them, former chief executive James Merrill, pleaded guilty in October and awaits sentencing on Feb. 2.
The other, Carlos Wanzeler, fled to his native Brazil where he remains, U.S. prosecutors said.
Rocha was part of a scheme to transfer millions of dollars of hidden TelexFree assets to Brazil by laundering the cash through Hong Kong, prosecutors said.
According to court documents, Rocha, acting as a courier for Wanzeler’s nephew, flew from Brazil to New York City a few days ago. Rocha then met with a cooperating witness at a restaurant in Hudson, Massachusetts, and gave him a suitcase containing $2.2 million.
After the meeting, agents followed Rocha to the Westborough apartment and later arrested him.