Virginia Beach woman sentenced to nearly 5 years in pageant scam targeting seniors

A Virginia Beach woman who participated in a lottery scam agreed three years ago to stop duping the elderly after receiving a cease and desist order from the United States Postal Service.

But soon after Terry Lynn Miller signed the order in June 2019, she returned to the scheme, defrauding 10 more victims before being arrested in May 2021, according to documents filed in US District Court in Norfolk.

Miller, 62, was sentenced Friday to four years and nine months in prison. She pleaded guilty in December to a charge of mail fraud and aggravated impersonation.

“She knew exactly what she was doing in 2019,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Gantt said during sentencing in Norfolk federal court. “But then she started right back.”

The pageant scam netted Miller and his co-conspirators about $220,000 between June 2019 and March 2021, according to court documents. More were on the way, but law enforcement intercepted nearly $90,000 in the mail.

Miller worked primarily with one other person outside the United States, whom she had never met, according to court documents. The conspirators contacted senior citizens across the United States to tell them they had won millions through a lottery or sweepstakes. But to get the money, victims would first have to send “taxes and fees” to Miller.

The scams relied on “the fact that most people in society assume the best” in others, U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. said in handing down the sentence. He also noted that Miller was a “minor cog in a larger operation.”

An elderly couple from Colorado were among the victims, according to a statement of facts accompanying the plea agreement. In April 2020, they were told that they had won $8.5 million in a Mega Millions lottery, but had to pay taxes and fees to get it. In exchange, Miller sent the pair a combination briefcase supposedly containing $500,000.

The couple were told they would have to pay more to get the jumpsuit. Although they paid more, the couple never got the suit. And when law enforcement opened the briefcase, it contained newspapers and a phone book.

By June 2020, Miller had deposited nearly $130,000 in money orders and checks from the couple — their life savings — into his personal bank accounts, according to the statement of facts.

Still, Miller was not living “some kind of lavish lifestyle” from his involvement in the operation, argued his lawyer Larry Woodward.

“It’s true that she participated in this, but I also think it’s true that she was deceived,” Woodward said.

Although Miller may have been made to participate, “she was made to do things that hurt people,” Gibney said.

Ali Sullivan, 757-677-1974, [email protected]

About the author