Tech company VP ordered to pay millions to Southern Illinois customers taken by scam

The former vice president and sales manager of tech support company that defrauded customers in Southern Illinois has been sentenced to federal prison for his part in the scheme.

Grant Clark Wasik, 36, of Oakland Park, Florida, will spend the next 10 1/2 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois. He pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count in 2018.

He was sentenced at the federal district court house in East St. Louis on Tuesday. He will also have to pay more than $10.5 million in restitution to the victims of the fraud scheme.

Wasik worked for Client Care Experts, LLC, based in Boynton Beach, Florida. According to federal prosecutor Steven Weinhoeft, the company was also known as First Choice Tech Support at one time and operated a similar tech support business called ABC Repair Tech in Costa Rica.

Wasik was named in a grand jury indictment that also charged Michael Austin Seward, 32, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Kevin James McCormick, 46, of Delray Beach, Florida, with wire fraud and conspiracy, Weinhoeft said in a release issued by his office.

According to court documents, Client Care Experts purchased pop-up ads that would appear on a person’s computer screen, the release stated. The pop-ups were made to look like system warnings and falsely informed the victims that serious problems like viruses and malware had been detected on the computer. Often, the pop-ups would cause the internet browser to freeze and stop responding.

The pop-ups also typically warned victims not to shut down their computers, as there was a risk for losing data, Weinhoeft said. Instead, the ads would direct a person to call a toll-free number where they were connected to sales representatives who convinced the victims to grant them remote access to the computer, where normal computer functions and routine processes were painted as “evidence” of serous computer problems, according to the release.

The pop-up ads, purchased by Wasik’s company, would otherwise go away with a reboot of the computer. But those taken in by the fraud were sold remote “tune-ups” for $250 and anti-virus protection for another $400, said Weinhoeft. Discounts were offered to senior citizens, military veterans and others, the release stated.

Client Care Experts, combined with the Costa Rica-based ABC Repair Tech, defrauded more than 40,000 people from 2013 to 2016, the according to the court. Victims were located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, several U.S. territories, all 10 Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom and several other foreign countries.

At least 57 victims were from Southern Illinois, including St. Clair and Madison Counties, Weinhoeft said.

The two companies took in over $25 million during the scheme.

The former CEO of ABC Repair Tech, Michael Cary Lawing, is due to be sentenced on Oct. 15 in the Southern District of Illinois as well, the release stated. Lawing, 34, of Lincolnton, North Carolina, pleaded guilty in 2018.

Since April 2017, 14 other employees of the two companies have pleaded guilty to federal fraud violations in the Southern District of Illinois.

Because the crimes allegedly took place in connection with telemarketing and victimized 10 or more persons over the age of 55, the maximum punishment in each case is 30 years imprisonment, the release stated. The defendants could also be ordered to serve up to 5 years of supervised release and pay a fine of up to $250,000. Under federal law, restitution to identified victims is mandatory.

Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.