Retiree loses $1m in timeshare fraud by Mexican drug cartel known for cannibalism

Two California retirees say they lost nearly $1 million after falling victim to a bizarre timeshare scam run by a notorious Mexican drug cartel that is known for horrifying claims of cannibalism.

The rapidly evolving scam, run by the Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG), is estimated to have fleeced hundreds of millions of dollars from Americans each year, including James, 76, and his wife Nicki, 72, who were looking to sell their Lake Tahoe timeshare.

James, who bought the property in the mid-90s for about $9,000 but only stayed there twice, jumped at the opportunity when he received a call from a real estate agent named Michael in October 2022 who offered to buy the timeshare.

“He was good at ingratiating himself,” James told DailyMail.com. “He had an air of confidence. I thought ‘This guy’s legit.’”

The scam is run by the Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG). REUTERS

The agent, who James only realized later had a slight Spanish accent, claimed to have found a Mexican investor willing to pay upwards of $22,000 for the property.

The cartel, known for drug trafficking, gruesomely slaughtering their enemies in public and forcing recruits to be trained in cannibalism at “terror schools,” has netted hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade preying on elderly American timeshare owners in similar schemes.

Days after their initial call, Michael called back to say would require $2,600 to cover the cross-border transaction, which he assured James would be reimbursed.

James, who did not share his last name with the Daily Mail, admitted his wife had concerns about the deal from the beginning, but he was reassured when Michael said the buyer would send the cash to US Commercial Escrow Corps, a company with a registered address in Manhattan.

The cartel has reportedly stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from elderly Americans with timeshares. AP

James even spoke with a representative of the company, who he said spoke with an American accent.

He was then hit with a second fee, costing $3,600.

“I felt alright,” James said. “I thought ‘I’m getting reimbursed for this, all will be well.’”

Eventually, the fees racked up to $50,000, at which point James was contacted by a man who claimed to be with the UIF, Mexico’s financial intelligence unit. The man claimed James had committed several violations and would be extradited if he did not pay even heftier fines.

All the while, James said the money always appeared in the New York escrow account, though no funds were ever released.

James and his wife lost nearly $1 million dollars from the scam.

He was then convinced by the fraudsters to invest $32,000 in a sustainable housing investment in Mexico, eventually making a dozen payments for a variety of reasons.

James says he made his last payment in January, spending a stunning $890,000 across several bank accounts in Mexico.

To fund the payments he had to borrow $150,000 from his daughter and sell his childhood home.

James soon uncovered some worrying details, including that the website for the Atlanta real estate agency Michael claimed to be part of had been taken down days after their first phone call.

He also found that the email address he had for a contact at the Bank of Mexico was registered in Arizona, and unexplainably, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Timeshare owners desperate to offload them are particularly vulnerable to the scam.

“None of them had any addresses or locations in Mexico,” James said.

The office for the US Commercial Escrow Corps also did not exist, the outlet reported.

James then contacted Mike Finn, a lawyer who has represented thousands of people facing similar scams.

According to Finn, timeshare owners are especially vulnerable when it comes to these scams because many are desperate to offload them, so when an offer comes in “their excitement blinds them to the details.”

Once the money has been sent to Mexico, it’s more difficult to recover, and the FBI can only investigate with cooperation from local authorities. American lawyers are also unable to file civil suits beyond their jurisdiction, Finn explained.

American timeshare owners have been scammed out of $288 million over the last five years, including from frauds run by the Jalisco New Generation.

The “elaborate” scam cost James his life savings — and left his wife infuriated with him.

“It was very elaborate,” he said. “That’s why I was sucked in. I just thought there were too many players involved for it to be a scam.”

He added: “My wife said from the start that it didn’t sound right. Obviously, I should have listened to her. She’s p—– about the whole thing. But she’s kind of resigned herself to the fact that I was the stupid one.”

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