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Internet-selling scheme lands woman in prison

Judge sentences her to 15 months

Her attorneys said she was blinded by love, but a federal court judge said Monday it looked to him as if Patsy Schmidt was blinded by money.

U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary sentenced Schmidt, 53, of Toledo to 15 months in prison and ordered her to pay a total of $13,526 in restitution to victims of her Internet crime.

Her son, Bradley Schmidt, 23, was sentenced to a day in federal custody and ordered to share in repaying $6,956 of the restitution for his part in the scheme, which involved pretending to purchase items for sale on Internet sites such as eBay and sending emails to sellers indicating payment had been received by PayPal, but telling them the funds weren’t available until the seller paid the cost of a pick-up agent.

Noah Hood, an assistant federal prosecutor, said the victims paid fees ranging from $200 to $1,200 as fees for items they were selling that were “as small as a Victrola to as large as a vehicle.”

Once the Schmidts received the money, they stopped communication with the seller, he said. They also kept a portion of the money collected and wired the rest to a man in Nigeria identified as “Juan.”

“‘Juan’ told Patsy that he loved her and that he was planning on moving to the United States to marry her, but that he needed her help to stay out of imminent danger, and she believed him,” defense attorney Angela Wynn-Stewart wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court. “She followed his every direction, and the one time she had doubts because of an interaction with a police officer, ‘Juan’ reassured her that it was all legal ... ”

Attorney Merle Dech, who stood in for Ms. Wynn-Stewart at sentencing, told the court Schmidt had looked for love in the wrong place and fell for the scheme.

“Her heart took over her mind, and she acted as a conduit,” he said.

“A conduit who shared in the profits,” the judge interjected.

Mr. Dech conceded Schmidt did receive $20 to $50 per transaction, adding that Schmidt was so poor she had no teeth and only recently was able to afford dentures.

Schmidt herself said she was remorseful.

“I did wrong here and he pulled me into his scheme and I tried to figure it out and it took me a long time,” she said.

Judge Zouhary didn’t buy the excuses and said he was particularly disturbed that she involved her own family members in the scam, which went on from 2010 to 2013.

“You continue to blame this Don Juan as the reason and say you simply felt betrayed,” the judge said. “Yes, this is a story of betrayal, but it’s not you who was betrayed but your family and the public.”

Schmidt and her son both pleaded guilty Dec. 6 to conspiracy to launder money and international money laundering. While the charges carry possible 20-year prison sentences, federal sentencing guidelines called for much smaller prison terms in part because of the defendants’ lack of criminal records.

Judge Zouhary placed Bradley Schmidt on supervised release for two years.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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