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An Orono man behind a $335 million magazine sales scam that defrauded thousands of victims pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and will pay more than $29 million in restitution.

Brian James Williams, 51, faces up to 30 years in prison for his role in scamming nationwide 183,000 victims — many elderly and vulnerable — into signing up for expensive magazine subscription packages.

U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald announced the guilty plea Friday following Williams’ indictment Tuesday. A total of 60 people from 14 states and two Canadian provinces were charged with fraudulent magazine sales. She called the scam the largest elderly fraud scheme in the country. It’s the first case federal prosecutors in Minnesota have charged under the Senior Citizens Against Marketing Scams Act of 1994.

Williams owned and operated several companies involved in the scams, including Reads Club Home Office, Pacific Renewal Service and Tropical Readers in St. Paul, and Pacific Beach Readers Club in San Diego, according to MacDonald. Call centers were located in both cities, where telemarketers used “deceptive sales scripts designed to defraud victim-consumers.”

Williams was arrested in August when he tried to board a flight from Los Angeles to Canada.

The case against Williams and his accomplices stemmed from investigations by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and FBI. Prosecuting the case are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Thompson, Harry Jacobs and Melinda Williams.

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751