American citizens were targeted in a massive call center scam in which workers in India tricked people into thinking that they were receiving calls from IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials. Victims across the country were defrauded, leading to a federal investigation.
An Indian national, Montu Barot, 30, and a Texas man, Nilesh Pandya, 54, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges this week, according to a statement released Wednesday from the Department of Justice.
Each man has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering offenses, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 371. The pleas were entered before U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. Sentencing dates are pending, and Barot agreed to deportation following his sentence.
According to the DOJ, “Barot, Pandya and their co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme in which individuals from call centers located in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and engaged in other telephone call scams, in a ruse designed to defraud victims located throughout the U.S. Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators targeted U.S. victims who were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay alleged monies owed to the government. Victims who agreed to pay the scammers were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing stored value cards or wiring money. Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the U.S. to liquidate and launder the fraudulently-obtained funds.”
Barot admitted to having served as a “runner” beginning in or around June 2012. “He coordinated the liquidation of victim scam funds by other runners per the instructions of conspirators from both India-based call centers and within the United States.” Using phone, text and email to communicate with domestic and India-based associates, he said that he and his co-conspirators “used reloadable cards containing funds derived from victims by scam callers to purchase money orders and deposit them into various bank accounts as directed, in return for cash payments or commissions.” The scammer also admitted to “sending financial ledgers to his conspirators detailing the movement of scam victim funds.”
Pandya also admitted to serving as a “runner” beginning in or around March 2014. His job was to liquidate the victim scam funds within the Southern District of Texas. “At the direction of two of his co-defendants, Pandya used stored value cards that had been loaded with victim funds to buy money orders and then deposit them into various bank accounts,” according to the DOJ report.
At this point, an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016, reveals that 54 other individuals and five India-based call centers have been charged for their roles in the fraud and money laundering scheme. A total of thirteen defendants have pleaded guilty thus far in this case, including Co-defendants Bharatkumar Patel, Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, Harsh Patel, Nilam Parikh, Hardik Patel, Rajubhai Patel, Viraj Patel, Dilipkumar A. Patel, Fahad Ali, Bhavesh Patel and Asmitaben Patel.
Remaining defendants will be tried in a court of law.
A Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to already identified and potential victims and the public. Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via this website.
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