Feds Uncover Publishers Clearing House Scam After Man's Drug Arrest

By Keri Blakinger 10/09/17

The man and his crew reportedly raked in more than $300,000 from two-dozen victims across 17 states.

Senior man celebrates success under money rain, falling down dollars

A Brooklyn man was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison for running an international coke ring and overseeing a $300,000 faux Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes scam. 

Ricardo Castang was originally arrested last fall at a Crown Heights shoe repair shop when he stopped in to pick up two souvenir bags from Costa Rica, stuffed with more than two pounds of blow sewn into the lining of the bags, according to the DEA. Sent by the U.S. Postal Service, those were just the last two in a string of suspicious packages shipped from the Central American country since at least December 2015, according to authorities.  

In the weeks leading up to the arrest, agents intercepted damning texts between Castang and his coke-dealing colleagues.

“The Costa Rica bag I gave u can u stitch it up and let me know how it turns out?” he wrote in August. Later that day, he wrote, “U think we can make some momey?” 

“Maybe lol,” the other person responded. 

Initially the investigation kicked off as a drug probe, but following the September 2016 collar, agents realized there was a little more to the shady shipping scheme. After poring through phone records, investigators realize Castang and his buddies were also running a Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes rip-off. 

The Brooklyn man and his co-conspirators would call up a potential victim and tell them they’d won a plum payout. But first, they’d claim, the target needed to fork over money for fees and taxes owed. Through that sleazy bit of deception, Castang and his crew raked in more than $300,000 from two-dozen victims spread out over 17 states, according to the feds. Most of the targets were elderly, with the average age around 78. 

Some victims paid as much as $50,000 and $60,000, in checks mailed to Castang’s home as well as to a nearby post office. All told, Castang and his associates transferred roughly $480,000 in cash to Costa Rica over a 3-year period.

The investigation was the work of a multi-agency force including NYPD, ATF, the Secret Service, the IRS, ICE, the DEA, Port Washington Police, and Wilton Police Department in Connecticut. 

In the end, Castang pleaded guilty to drug and fraud charges, netting a 10-year sentence for attempted possession of a controlled substance in the first degree and 1 to 3 years for first-degree scheme to defraud. He was sentenced Thursday in Manhattan Supreme Court.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.