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This box spring contained $17.5 million — in cash

This box spring contained $17.5 million in cash related to the TelexFree pyramid scheme, according to federal officials. US Department of Justice

Another man with close ties to TelexFree Inc. co-owner Carlos Wanzeler is now facing jail time, while Wanzeler remains a fugitive in Brazil.

Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 27, who recently led authorities to $17.5 million in cash stuffed into a bed box spring, appeared Monday for a hearing in federal court in Boston. Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein ruled that he is a flight risk and should remain in jail until a trial which has not been scheduled.

“He was close enough to Mr. Wanzeler to be entrusted with millions of dollars,’’ Dein said.

Rocha was arrested Jan. 4 by Homeland Security Investigations in a sting operation that prosecutors say linked him to money laundering by Wanzeler, who allegedly has been sending people to the Boston area to pick up slices of some $40 million that he left here.


Rocha’s lawyer, Raymond Sayeg, argued his client was not a flight risk and said he was a “mule” unaware of the seriousness of what he had been taking on. Rocha had flown into New York with his wife days earlier and had planned to return home to Brazil on Jan. 7, his lawyer said.

“There is no connection between my client and TelexFree,’’ Sayeg said.

Wanzeler fled the country for his native Brazil in April 2014 as federal authorities raided TelexFree’s Marlborough office and seized $140 million.

The company had been nominally selling Internet phone service plans, but the operation turned into a $3 billion pyramid scheme with two million investors around the world.

It allegedly lured people in with small investment accounts and used the money from new investors to pay off the earlier ones. Nearly a million people lost money, prosecutors say.

Wanzeler’s American partner in the business, James Merrill of Ashland, has pleaded guilty to his role in the fraud and is facing up to a decade in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for early March.


On Monday, new details emerged about the sting that ensnared Rocha Jan. 4 as he was delivering $2.2 million in a suitcase to a government informant.With agents watching his moves all day, Rocha later met with Wanzeler’s wife, Katia, at a 99 Restaurant and gave her a purse.

In court, Assistant US Attorney Andrew Lelling said the purse contained $45,000 in cash and was turned over to authorities. Katia Wanzeler has denied wrongdoing or knowledge of why that money was passed to her, according to her lawyer, Paul Kelly.

Later that day, Rocha led officials to a Westborough apartment that contained the box spring. The original estimate of the funds stashed there was $20 million.

Lelling said the apartment is rented in the name of the former wife of the third TelexFree co-owner, Carlos Costa, also a native of Brazil. Costa has denied that TelexFree was a fraud.

Rocha has been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and if convicted faces at least eight years in prison under sentencing guidelines.

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.