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“It offered an opportunity for a better life:” Hundreds of victims taken in unique “Third World” scam

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Giving back to underdeveloped countries and getting cash back! It can seem like a worthwhile investment, but if the money ends up in the wrong hands, you could end up in big trouble!

"They dangled the carrot just far enough in front of you to keep you interested," Joe Mackey said.

Mackey thought he was investing in improving technology in Third World countries. In reality, he was caught in a scam.

"Renovating the old power plants that they have, bringing them up to the modern age so they function at peak capacity," Mackey said.

"People would only have to pay 10 cents and there are so many people in Nigeria who needed power that it would make him millions and millions of dollars," U.S. Postal Inspector Stephanie Barrett said.

Investors were promised big returns.

"The stockholders were told that they could expect three to four times the return of their money within a year of the power plants being built. So within two years they would receive probably $1 million dollars and it would  just continue up from there," Barrett said.

"It offered an opportunity for a better life for my wife, my kids and myself," Mackey said.

But it was all a lie. Postal inspectors say the con-man running the scheme was just stealing their money.

"I felt angry. I felt foolish. I felt betrayed," Mackey said.

Mackey wasn't alone. More than 300 victims lost more than $1.5 million. Postal inspectors say an honest employee who worked for the ringleader went to police and said:

"The stockholders were not going to receive any of their money and the money that was actually being spent, was being spent on personal living expenses not for the company," Barrett said.

Postal inspectors warn all consumers to do their research before investing, and always be wary of promises and big returns.

"The odds of getting a million dollars for a $3,200 share is very slim," Barrett said.

The main suspect in this case pleaded guilty to mail fraud, securities fraud and money laundering. He faces up to 20 years per fraud count and a maximum sentence of 10 years for money laundering.