Tahoe couple charged in $1.5 million Internet scheme

A former Incline Village couple charged with scheming to defraud people of more than $1.5 million are set to stand before a U.S. district judge in March.

Darrin and Jennifer French lived in Incline Village during the time authorities think they set up a fraud scheme through online auction house eBay to get payment for expensive appliances without ever actually shipping them, according to an indictment from the Nevada U.S. District Attorney's office.

The indictment charges the French couple with 63 separate counts of wire fraud and 21 counts of mail fraud. Each count carries with it a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Frenchs lived in Incline between early October 2003 and late October 2004, and set up their business, Tahoe Appliance LLC, and a Web site for the business called "Look What We Got (LLWG)." The business claimed to sell cheap appliances from Thermador, Sub Zero, Viking, and Wolf, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, LLWG products were advertised on eBay, leading buyers to think the site was eBay-approved. Once they selected an item for purchase, they were redirected to the LLWG site and asked to purchase the products from there.

The site, though, did not fall under eBay's consumer protective agreements.

Buyers from across the country fell prey to the scheme, as the indictment shows people from 24 states and the United Kingdom purchased items from the former Incline Village couple.

According to the indictment, a few consumers received their merchandise and then the Frenches stopped shipping any goods.

Once a buyer's credit card was charged and their check received, they received an e-mail in August 2004 stating Tahoe Appliance LLC no longer had their appliance in stock and new suppliers were changing the prices of the merchandise. To save consumers the headache, the indictment said the Frenches told people they would get refunds on the money they paid by Sept. 10, 2004.

Then, on Sept. 9, the Frenches sent out another e-mail saying the company was "resolving issues and the refunds," would be in the mail as soon as possible. The money was never refunded, according to the indictment.

Those who bought the products with a credit card were refunded their money- $1.2 million in total. The other $300,000 was sent in checks and could not be refunded, the indictment reads.

The Frenches were arrested at their home in Susanville, Calif. on Jan. 18. They appeared that afternoon at the U.S. District court in Reno and pleaded innocent to all charges.

The two were released on personal recognizance bonds pending a March 25 preliminary trial date, according to Natalie Collins, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Greg Brower, the U.S. Attorney whose office is prosecuting the case, said Internet offenders will be prosecuted.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office will vigorously prosecute individuals who prey on victims online," Brower said in a press release. "Individuals should be extremely cautious when they are purchasing items online or from anonymous individuals, and remember that deals that sound too good to be true typically are."


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