Carlos Wanzeler, fugitive TelexFree principal, to stay in Brazil
E-mail cites talks with US authorities
Carlos Wanzeler, a principal of TelexFree Inc. who fled this country after authorities accused the company of running a $1 billion fraud, said in an e-mail that he is “currently unable to leave Brazil” because he would be jailed if he returned to the United States.
The e-mail, sent to the Globe, marks the first public statement from Wanzeler in more than a year. He drove across the Canadian border to fly to his native Brazil in April 2014 as Marlborough-based TelexFree filed for bankruptcy protection, and was accused of running one of the largest pyramid schemes in history.
Wanzeler left behind his family in Northborough as well as his longtime business partner, James Merrill, who was arrested and spent more than five weeks in custody. Merrill was released on bail last June, and is home with a tracking device and a curfew while awaiting trial.
Lawyers for both men have denied wrongdoing by their clients. But Wanzeler has been silent until now, as his attorneys have kept him from commenting on the case. At a planned interview last year with the Globe in Vitoria, Brazil, his lawyers at the last minute did not allow him to appear.
Wanzeler sent an e-mail to the Globe over the weekend with a link to the latest video posted by the former head of TelexFree in Brazil, Carlos Costa. In the video, Costa objects to a consulting audit, filed in court there, that found evidence the company was operating a pyramid scheme — using money from new investors to repay earlier ones.
TelexFree found errors in the study and hired another consultancy to do a competing report, according to Paul Kelly, Wanzeler’s lawyer in Boston.
“This is scandalous,’’ Costa said in the 24-minute video, reminiscent of the marketing videos TelexFree previously issued regularly to rouse investors.
The company had purported to be in the business of selling cheap long-distance phone service, and offered hefty returns for backers. But US prosecutors allege that it brought in the vast majority of its money by luring participants to bring in friends and family.
Wanzeler and Merrill are facing criminal and civil fraud charges related to their roles at TelexFree, which had nearly 1.9 million participants around the world — more alleged victims than in any other fraud case prosecuted in the United States. Each faces 20 years in prison if found guilty.
A separate investigation is underway in Brazil, where convictions would result in much lighter penalties.
In his e-mail correspondence, Wanzeler said he had been negotiating with the authorities in recent months to return to the United States.
“Their response stated that I would have to be put in jail,’’ Wanzeler said in his e-mail. “Therefore it would be impossible for me to defend myself.”
Kelly, Wanzeler’s lawyer, confirmed he had been in talks with the US attorney’s office. Kelly said prosecutors wanted Wanzeler to submit to the same conditions as Merrill, but coming up with $1 million in bail was going to be “nearly impossible” because his assets have been frozen.
Another sticking point, Kelly said: Wanzeler wanted to return to Boston on his own; the US government wanted to send agents to Brazil to retrieve him.
But the discussions were preempted when Brazilian authorities investigating TelexFree confiscated Wanzeler’s passport in July, Kelly said.
“We’re kind of stuck in the mud until the Brazilians do something,’’ he said.
A spokesman for the US attorney’s office did not return a phone call Tuesday.
In the meantime, the US criminal and civil cases are proceeding. The bankruptcy trustee also is working on the case, and so far has about $172 million to be distributed to victims — but only if there is a guilty verdict.
Wanzeler said his lawyers did not want him to communicate directly with reporters.
“The only thing I ask is that you investigate this and tell the truth,’’ Wanzeler wrote. “No matter if the case is in my favor or against me, I do not mind as long as it’s the truth.”