published Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Decades-long deception claimed Mafia, CIA ties

Fast facts

Minimum estimated amount wired -- $4 million

Time frame -- 2003 to 2013

Accounts used -- Seven

Mary Roach aliases -- Nine

States involved -- Five

Possible prison sentence -- 20 years

Source: federal court documents, court testimony

A Laredo, Texas, couple with Marion County, Tenn., ties is accused of bilking an Arizona grandmother and a chiropractor out of possibly millions of dollars with a tale involving Mafia chases and a supposed secret CIA operation, prosecutors say.

Steven Audette, 56, and his wife, Mary Roach, 53, have been charged with a single count of wire fraud, carrying a possible 20-year sentence if convicted.

The couple appeared in U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee's courtroom Thursday afternoon for their initial appearance. Their arrests capped a three-year investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Marion County Sheriff's Office; and numerous other agencies.

Court documents, including statements from at least two alleged victims, outlined what prosecutors call a scam that went on for decades.

A few years after graduating from a Minnesota chiropractic school in the late 1980s, Audette called up his former classmate, a man identified only as S.W. in court documents, and asked to borrow money.

S.W. obliged. But then the requests got more frequent and a threatening story emerged.

Audette claimed he was the son of infamous mob boss Lucky Luciano and was on the run from the Mafia because he stood to "inherit a lot of money." He assured S.W. that the money he was borrowing was a loan and would be paid back. He couldn't talk about more details because he was helping a CIA agent with a secret investigation.

When S.W. kept sending money but then started asking questions, Audette told him that if he were captured he'd have to tell the Mafia hit men where S.W. lived and his family might be in danger.

This went on from 1992 to 2002, S.W. told investigators, and eventually bankrupted his Scottsdale, Ariz., medical practice.

To relieve the pressure briefly, S.W. told a patient in 1999 that his friend needed help with some IRS trouble and needed money. The patient, a wealthy grandmother identified only as L.M. in court documents, agreed to help, at first with small amounts.

S.W. took some money from her and sent it to Audette, and then put the two in contact. By 2002, S.W. had cut ties with Audette. He claimed to agents he did not know that Audette was still in touch with L.M.

But he was telling L.M. the same story but with more graphic threats.

If he were caught, Mafia hit men would come to her house and "rape and kill her grandchildren by dismemberment."

Frightened, L.M. paid and kept paying, for years, until she ran out of money.

During this time Roach had gotten family members and friends to take money-store and bank transfers in "micro structure" amounts under the $3,000 limit that attracts federal attention.

From 2002 to 2013 an estimated $4 million was wired in at least 639 transfers to seven accounts, much of it withdrawn in cash and given to Roach.

Roach used some money to pay her daughter Heather Renick's bills at their now-defunct Laredo hair salon.

Renick told investigators she didn't ask questions to avoid angering her mother. Renick and the other account holders have not been charged. She could not be reached for comment.

Other family members and friends were used in Alabama, Ohio, and South Pittsburg, Tenn.

Mary's brother, Ricky Roach, was one of the people holding pass-through accounts for Mary.

Court documents indicate that Ricky Roach was suspected of distributing marijuana in Marion County. Part of this charge arose from an investigation of Marion County marijuana distributor and money launderer Julio Barbosa, who was sentenced to four years in federal prison in 2013.

Mary Roach told investigators the money L.M. sent her was a loan for her and her daughter's hair salon, and that she didn't fear any danger.

Audette told investigators the same story he'd told S.W. and L.M. for years -- the mob is chasing him and he's helping the CIA.

At Thursday's hearing, Lee appointed local attorneys Hannah Stokes and Leslie Cory to represent Audette and Roach, respectively, although she was skeptical that the pair couldn't hire their own attorneys.

"I do find your financial affidavits incredibly suspect based on the complete lack of information," the judge said.

Federal prosecutor Gregg Sullivan declined comment on the pending case.

Mary Roach and Audette face a preliminary hearing Monday. Unless they choose soon to plead guilty, they will be transported to Arizona for further court proceedings.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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