By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Friday unveiled an indictment against three men for engaging in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud consumers by charging unsuspecting mobile phone users for unwanted text messages.
An indictment filed in federal court in Manhattan charged Fraser Thompson, an ex-executive at mobile aggregation company Mobile Messenger, as well as Eugeni Tsvetnenko and Francis Assifuah, who authorities say ran digital content providers.
The trio were added to a pre-existing case against five other people and accused of participating in an “auto-subscribing” scheme to charge cell phone customers monthly fees for unsolicited, recurring text messages without their consent.
Thompson was arrested on Friday in California. Tsvetnenko lives in Australia and has not been arrested, while Assifuah had already been arrested in April. The trio face charges including wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Lawyers for Thompson and Assifuah did not respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for Tsvetnenko could not be identified.
According to court papers, Thompson was the executive vice president of operations at Mobile Messenger, where two-previously charged defendants, Darcy Wedd and Christopher Goff, were chief executive and an account manager, respectively.
Prosecutors said they and others participated in a scheme lasting from 2011 to 2013 that involved causing cell phone users to receive unsolicited text messages for content including horoscopes, celebrity gossip and trivia.
While users typically ignored or deleted the messages, these consumers were nonetheless billed for the services at a rate of $9.99 per month, even though they never ordered them, prosecutors said.
Wedd, Goff and three other already-charged defendants in Friday’s indictment previously pleaded not guilty and were set to face trial on Oct. 5.
The case is U.S. v. Wedd et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-616.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Chris Reese)