BOSTON – A Brazilian man arrested in connection with the discovery of about $20 million cash hidden inside a box spring in a Massachusetts apartment was sentenced Thursday to nearly three years in prison, federal prosecutors said.
Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, had pleaded guilty in October to money laundering charges.
The money was found in Westborough in January 2017 during an investigation into TelexFree Inc., a defunct internet telecom company that prosecutors say was actually a billion-dollar pyramid scheme.
Marlborough, Massachusetts-based TelexFree had few actual customers and made most of its revenue from people buying into the company with a promise of payouts for posting online ads. They were paid with money from new recruits, often friends and family of earlier investors.
Authorities have said a million people worldwide were swindled out of nearly $1.8 billion.
TelexFree filed for bankruptcy in 2014, its assets were frozen, and its two principals were indicted on federal charges of wire fraud and conspiracy.
One of them, former chief executive James Merrill, was sentenced last March to six years in prison.
The other, co-founder Carlos Wanzeler, fled to his native Brazil where he remains a fugitive. But in his haste to flee, he left millions of dollars hidden, prosecutors said.
Rocha was sent to the U.S. to retrieve some of that money, prosecutors said, so it could be transferred to Brazil after being laundered through Hong Kong.
According to court documents, Rocha, acting as a courier for Wanzeler's nephew, flew from Brazil to New York City and met a cooperating witness at a restaurant in Hudson, Massachusetts, where Rocha handed over a suitcase containing $2.2 million intending that the cooperating witness help move it out of the U.S.
After the meeting, agents tailed Rocha to the Westborough apartment.