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January 27, 2020

Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud in Connection With an International Impersonation Scheme Targeting U.S. Victims [1]

On November 26, 2019, in the Eastern District of New York, Jamal Zafar pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Zafar and coconspirators had previously been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with an impersonation and Internet retail scheme directed at thousands of individuals across the United States.

According to the court documents, as part of the scheme, telemarketing call centers in India placed calls to U.S. victims seeking to defraud them of money by various fraudulent scenarios. Among the fraudulent scenarios was a scam wherein callers contacted the victims and falsely claimed to be agents of U.S. Government agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The callers falsely claimed that they were contacting the victims to inform them that they owed the U.S. Government a specified amount of money and, if the victims did not immediately remit payment to the individuals or entities identified by the callers, they would be arrested.

Between January 2018 and September 2018, Zafar and others opened bank accounts in the names of various inactive and shell corporations for the purpose of receiving fraud proceeds. Shortly after receiving the wire transfer payments that the victims sent, the defendant and others withdrew and directed shell company owners to withdraw the fraudulently obtained victims’ funds and then distributed the money via cashier’s checks and wire transfers to other bank accounts. The defendant, together with others, received approximately $2.3 million from the victims as a result of the fraud scheme.

Zafar consented to the entry of a forfeiture money judgement in the amount of $232,362 and the forfeiture of other property involved in the defendant’s violation.

Zafar could face a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.

  • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: E.D.N.Y. Indict. filed Aug. 22, 2019; E.D.N.Y. DOJ Press Release dated Aug. 26, 2019; E.D.N.Y Criminal Cause For Guilty Plea filed Nov. 26, 2019; E.D.N.Y Preliminary Order of Forfeiture filed Dec. 9, 2019; and E.D.N.Y Order of Referral filed Nov. 26, 2019.

  • IRS Employee Indicted with Access Device Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft [1]

    On November 26, 2019, in the Eastern District of Virginia, Kwashie Senam Zilevu was indicted on charges of access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. Zilevu was previously charged via criminal complaint with access device fraud on October 2, 2019, and subsequently arrested by special agents of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) on October 3, 2019.

    According to court documents, Zilevu was employed as an Information Technology Specialist with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Zilevu owned several businesses, including MacroTele, LLC, which he claimed sold telephone calling cards that he created. Between January 2016 and March 2018, Zilevu knowingly, and without authorization, used the names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security Numbers of at least three victims to obtain fraudulent credit cards. Once Zilevu obtained the credit cards in the victims’ names, he used them to make several thousands of dollars of purchases at retail stores and other companies. An American Express (AmEx) application was submitted using a victim’s personally identifiable information (PII) and approximately $49,000 was charged to the AmEx card. Among the purchases were an airline ticket for travel from Washington, D.C., to Miami, Florida, and a hotel reservation for Zilevu.

    Another credit card application was submitted to U.S. Bank and Trust using PII of a second victim. Bank statements revealed that a total of $10,273.39 in completed transactions and $2,651.62 in attempted transactions were made using this card, including an airline ticket from Dulles, Virginia, to Montego Bay, Jamaica, for Zilevu. Another credit card application was submitted to U.S. Bank and Trust using a third victim’s PII. A total of $9,641.69 in fraudulent charges were made using this card. A review of Zilevu’s IRS e-mail account revealed that Zilevu received an e-mail message from PayPal congratulating the third victim for setting up his or her account and instructing the victim to click a link in order to confirm the accuracy of his or her e-mail address. Zilevu received a subsequent e-mail message from PayPal to his IRS e-mail account advising the third victim that he or she was officially a PayPal member. When interviewed, each of the victims confirmed that the fraudulent credit cards had been taken out in their names, and that Zilevu did not have permission or authority to use their information to apply for the cards.

    This investigation was worked jointly by special agents from TIGTA and the United States Postal Inspection Service. If convicted, Zilevu could face a fine and up to 15 years’ imprisonment.

    • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: D. Mass. Crim. Compl. filed October 30, 2019; D. Mass. Executed Arrest Warrant filed October 30, 2019; D. Mass. Crim. Docket as of November 12, 2019.

    • Woman Sentenced in Scheme Using Stolen Tax Refund Checks [1]

      On November 26, 2019, in the Western District of Missouri, Frances Wright was sentenced for her role in a scheme involving the theft of U.S. Treasury tax refund checks. In July 2019, Wright pled guilty to bank fraud.

      According to the court documents, eight individuals were charged in a scheme involving the theft of U.S. Treasury tax refund checks. Branden Belvin, Mistie Smith, Dante Chestnut, Susannah Lesaisaea, Cassandra Franklin, Sharieff Sylvester, Joseph Hooks, and Frances Wright were indicted on May 2, 2018, for conspiracy, bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

      Belvin and Smith, both residents of California, obtained approximately 99 U.S. Treasury checks that had been stolen from the U.S. Postal Service mail stream. The checks had been issued for tax refunds and were printed and mailed in Kansas City, Missouri. Belvin and Smith recruited the codefendants to participate in the scheme by negotiating the stolen checks. They created or obtained fraudulent identification documents, such as driver’s licenses, in order to deposit the stolen refund checks.

      Between March 2016 and May 2016, the coconspirators traveled through Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri negotiating the stolen refund checks at various branches of Academy Bank, a financial institution headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. The defendants used false identification documents in order to open bank accounts in the names depicted on the checks. They then deposited the checks into the newly created accounts and subsequently withdrew the majority of the money.

      In April 2016, Denver, Colorado, police officers responded to an incident involving Belvin and Smith at a hotel. Officers recovered an envelope containing 19 counterfeit California driver’s licenses. The names on the counterfeit driver’s licenses matched the names of victims whose tax refund checks had been stolen and cashed, but most of the licenses pictured the same six individuals, coconspirators Chestnut, Sylvester, Franklin, Lesaisaea, Wright, and another individual. The scheme resulted in the fraudulent negotiation of approximately 99 checks representing a total financial loss of approximately $447,517. The aggregate amount of stolen checks presented by Wright totaled $24,970.

      Wright was sentenced to five years’ probation for committing bank fraud and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $24,970.

      • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: W.D. Mo. Indict. filed May 2, 2018; W.D. Mo. Plea Agr. filed July 29, 2019; W.D. Mo. Judgment filed Nov 26, 2019.

      • Four Individuals Charged in Scheme to Defraud U.S. Government Agencies [1]

        On November 6, 2019, in the Eastern District of New York, Jack Cabasso, Frances Cabasso, Jonathan Lasker, Alan Schwartz, and Aventura Technologies, Inc. (Aventura), were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and unlawful importation.

        According to the criminal complaint, from between about August 2006 and November 2019, the defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired to devise a scheme to defraud U.S. Government agencies, contractors, and private sector customers by falsely stating that merchandise was made by Aventura and in the United States. As stated in a Department of Justice press release dated November 7, 2019, under Federal Government procurement laws and regulations a product’s country of origin can impact a procurement officer’s decision to purchase a product. In addition, all products imported into the United States must be marked with their country of origin. Over the past decade, Aventura made upwards of $88 million, including over $20 million in Federal Government contracts, while claiming that it was manufacturing its products at its headquarters in Commack, New York. Instead, since at least 2006, Aventura has been importing products primarily from the People’s Republic of China and then reselling them as American-made. According to the complaint, the Department of the Treasury has paid Aventura approximately $16.9 million through September 2019.

        The defendants also defrauded the U.S. Government by obtaining contracts set aside for women-owned small business under the false pretense that Aventura was controlled by Frances Cabasso when, in fact, Aventura was controlled by Jack Cabasso.

        If convicted, the defendants could face up to 20 years’ imprisonment on each charge in the complaint.

        This investigation was worked jointly by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the General Services Administration Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)- Criminal Investigation, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General, the Army Criminal Investigation Division, and the Treasury Office of Inspector General.

        • [1] The facts in this case narrative come from the following publicly available documents: E.D.N.Y. Crim. Compl. filed Nov 6, 2019; and E.D.N.Y DOJ Press Release dated Nov 7, 2019.

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