Ringleader of Massachusetts pyramid scheme pleads guilty

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 2.

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — The president of a Massachusetts-based pyramid scheme disguised as an internet telecom company that took advantage of victims worldwide has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy charges.

James Merrill entered the pleas in federal court on Monday in a deal with prosecutors. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 2.

The 55-year-old Ashland man served as president of TelexFree, a marketing company accused in 2014 of operating an international scheme that targeted Brazilian immigrants in the Boston area.

Participants were promised returns of 200 percent, even if they sold nothing.

Prosecutors estimate roughly 965,000 people lost about $1.8 billion.

Merrill’s lawyer says his client played a limited role in the company and accepts responsibility.

Merrill’s former partner remains under indictment and is believed to have fled the U.S.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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