DETROIT (WWJ) — Sixteen people, including two from Michigan, have been charged in a nationwide telemarketing scheme that involved thousands of homes in Detroit.

The fraudulent telemarketing scheme has bilked more than $20 million from victims. Call centers from Florida and New York offered to sell homes in Detroit, lying about the home’s values and selling prices.

Many of the homes had been acquired for no more than $500. Once purchased, investors were unable to contact the telemarketers again.

“This nationwide telemarketing fraud not only caused millions of dollars in losses to victims of the scheme, but it also contributed to blight in Detroit neighborhoods,” United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade said. “Thousands of homes were left to fall into decay as a result of these individuals using Detroit real estate as a commodity to accomplish their fraud.”

The telemarketers utilized aliases and frequently changed the name of their company to avoid disgruntled investors and law enforcement. The charges include conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Each count carries a possible 20-year jail sentence.

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