Federal authorities said a marijuana investigation centering on a South Pittsburg man turned up 15 wire transfers that led to the discovery of the bizarre blackmailing of a Scottsdale, Ariz., woman over many years and involving millions of dollars.
Mary Roach and her ex-husband, Steven Dale Audette, of Laredo, Tex., are set to appear in Chattanooga Federal Court on Monday on wire fraud charges.
Ms. Roach, who authorities said uses numerous aliases, is the sister of Ricky Roach of South Pittsburg.
Authorities said they began investigating Ricky Roach for distributing marijuana that he got from Laredo. During the probe it was found that he received wire transfers totaling $94,390 at Citizens Tri-County Bank in South Pittsburg. Roach used some of the money from those wire transfers to purchase a 2010 Ford Expedition for $33,000 from Moss Motors in South Pittsburg.
Agents said they eventually found that the Scottsdale woman had been making multiple wire transfers to the Roach clan. She sent over $1.5 million that was tracked and eventually had to declare bankruptcy.
Authorities initially believed she was part of a criminal plot and was involved in money laundering. A search of the home of her and her daughter was carried out last Oct. 16.
After the raid and an interview of the woman and her daughter, it was determined that she was being blackmailed to send the money, a federal criminal complaint says.
The woman said she has a rare medical disease and only got relief from her chiropractor. She said she therefore trusted her chiropractor and agreed to his request to send money to Audette, who had gone to chiropractic school with him.
There were at least 397 wire transactions sent between the individuals involved in the investigation from 2003 to 2013. The blackmail began in 1999.
Authorities said the woman (identified only as L.M.) stated that Audette kept demanding money and "eventually Audette informed her the reason he needed the money was because he was on the run from the mafia and that he was working on a secret government investigation. L.M. says that Audette explained to her that she would be paid back all of her money as soon the investigation was over.
"L.M. stated over the years Audette became more threatening in his demands for the money by telling her if he (Audette) was ever captured by the mafia then he would tell the mafia where L.M. lived. L.M. stated Audette had warned her if the mafia showed up at her house, then her grandchildren would be raped and killed by dismemberment. L.M. further stated Audette told her since this was part of a secret government investigation then she (L.M.) could not tell anyone including law enforcement about what was going on or she (L.M.) would ruin the entire investigation and people would end up dead.
"L.M. stated she feared for the safety of her family and herself, so she would send money whenever Audette would call and demand it. L.M. stated Audette would call and send text messages demanding money - many times indicating the secret government investigation was almost over. L.M. indicated that Audette would provide her with the names of people to send the money to. Audette would tell her the people were government agents or that the money was going into a secure government account. L.M. indicated that over time she sent millions of dollars into these accounts at the demands of Audette until she eventually bankrupted herself and exhausted all of her funds."
Authorities said the money was going to Audette and to Mary Roach under many aliases or to her relatives.
Agents said the woman stated "that it became all about the protection of her family and not the money. She felt if she did not send Audette the money when he asked or demanded it, then L.M.'s family would be tortured and killed."
Multiple agencies have been investigating the case since August 2011.
The agencies participating in the investigation include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Intemal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Border Patrol, the Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Marshals Service, the Marion County Tennessee Sheriff's Department, the Chattanooga Police Department; the Tennessee Bureau of lnvestigation and the Tennessee 12th Judicial District Drug Task Force.