Thursday, April 22, 2021
Hospital Researcher Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Steal Trade Secrets and Sell to China, Defendant Will Pay More Than $2.6 Million in Restitution
Yu Zhou, 51, of Dublin, Ohio, pleaded guilty in December 2020 to stealing scientific trade secrets related to exosomes and exosome isolation from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Research Institute for his own personal financial gain. Zhou also conspired to commit wire fraud.
“Yu Zhou sought to exploit U.S. taxpayer dollars intended to fund critical, life-saving research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital through the whole-sale theft of their trade secrets,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “Zhou’s greed was encouraged and enabled by a series of Chinese Government programs which incentivize thievery in an attempt to supplement China’s own research and development goals on the back of American ingenuity and investment. This successful prosecution should serve as a warning to anyone who seeks to profit from pilfering hard-earned U.S. trade secrets.”
“Yu Zhou willingly took part in the Chinese Government’s long-term efforts to steal American intellectual property,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Vipal J. Patel for the Southern District of Ohio. “Zhou and his wife executed a scheme over the course of several years to set up businesses in China, steal American research, and profit from doing so. The couple deserves the time it received in federal prison.”
According to court documents, Zhou and his co-conspirator and wife, Li Chen, 48, worked in separate medical research labs at the Research Institute for 10 years each (Zhou from 2007 until 2017 and Chen from 2008 until 2018). They pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal at least five trade secrets related to exosome research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Chen was sentenced in February to 30 months in prison for her role in the scheme.
Exosomes play a key role in the research, identification and treatment of a range of medical conditions, including necrotizing enterocolitis (a condition found in premature babies), liver fibrosis and liver cancer.
Court documents detail that Zhou and Chen conspired to steal and then monetize one of the trade secrets by creating and selling exosome “isolation kits.” Zhou’s research at Nationwide Children’s included a novel isolation method in which exosomes could be isolated from samples as small as one drop of blood. This method was vital to the research being conducted in Zhou’s lab – because necrotizing enterocolitis is a condition found primarily in premature babies, only small amounts of fluid can safely be taken from them.
Zhou and Chen started a company in China to sell the kits.
The defendants received benefits from the Chinese government, including the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Zhou and Chen were also part of application processes related to multiple Chinese government programs, including talent plans, a method used by China to transfer foreign research and technology to the Chinese government.
As part of their convictions, the couple will forfeit approximately $1.45 million, 500,000 shares of common stock of Avalon GloboCare Corp. and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies Inc. They were also ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution.
Chen and Zhou were arrested in California in July 2019 and their case was unsealed in August 2019 when they appeared in federal court in Columbus.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia has been unsealed charging two businesses and nine of their officers and managers located across the country for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and commit various fraud and criminal immigration offenses for profit.
According to court documents, Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC; Educational World, Inc.; Karen Makaryan, 42, Sargis Makaryan, 42, and Samvel Nikoghosyan, 40, of Destrehan, La.; Artur Grigoryan, 38, of Biloxi, Miss.; Armen Ayrapetyan, 37, of Duluth, Ga.; Jason Hill, 28, of Virginia Beach, Va.; Fremie Balbastro, 49, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Larisa Khariton, 73, and Jon Clark, 71, of North Port, Fla., were charged in a 36-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on April 8. Each defendant was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States, including encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, transporting aliens, and visa fraud. Each defendant also was charged with substantive counts of encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, and transportation of aliens. In addition, Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC; Karen Makaryan; Sargis Makaryan; Samvel Nikoghosyan; Artur Grigoryan; Armen Ayrapetyan; Fremie Balbastro; and Jason Hill were also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.
“The defendants in this case allegedly engaged in an expansive conspiracy to enrich themselves by exploiting both the immigration system and noncitizen workers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Systemic fraud and abuse of U.S. visa programs and processes designed to protect American workers and businesses will not be tolerated, and offenders will be held accountable.”
“Hospitality venues often struggle with finding workers, and in recent years that has been an even greater challenge,” said Acting U.S. Attorney David H. Estes for the Southern District of Georgia. “Agencies that provide workers can be exceptionally helpful in such circumstances – but they must provide that assistance in accordance with the law. In this case, businesses in St. Simons Island were among those allegedly exploited along with the illegally provided workers.”
“The Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange,” said Acting Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Robert Smolich of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations. “When bad actors corrupt these programs for personal gain, it not only diminishes an important tool of diplomacy, it harms the thousands of individuals who participate in these programs hoping to gain skills and experience to make a better life. Today we took a step forward in restoring integrity back to those programs.”
“These defendants’ alleged scheme to game the immigration system and defraud the government has backfired and they will now be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Georgia and Alabama. “Schemes like this not only exploit the noncitizen workers involved, they also damage the other legitimate businesses in the community. Protecting the integrity of the visa program and immigration system is vital to the security of our nation.”
According to the indictment, from an unknown date through at least May 2017, the individual defendants enriched themselves by participating in a scheme to recruit and hire noncitizen laborers without authorization to work for defendant Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC (RHS). RHS allegedly entered into contracts to provide hospitality-related businesses with lawful laborers to work in housekeeping, retail, and foodservice positions. To fill those positions, RHS defendants hired noncitizens who were not authorized to work for RHS in the United States. In some cases, the RHS defendants arranged for and provided housing and transportation to the workers.
The defendants and other co-conspirators also allegedly encouraged and induced noncitizen laborers on expiring and expired J-1 exchange visitor visas to obtain B-2 tourist visas and to work in the United States for RHS, knowing that employing such laborers on B-2 visas was illegal. Educational World, Inc. (Ed World) – a visa preparation company – and the Ed World defendants, after charging noncitizen laborers approximately $650 per application, prepared and submitted applications for B-2 visas on behalf of the workers, which contained false and misleading statements designed to indicate that the noncitizens intended to obtain the B-2 visa for the purpose of engaging in tourism and that the noncitizens were complying with United States immigration laws. In fact, the Ed World defendants knew that those noncitizens were already present in and intended to stay in the United States for employment, not tourism.
The indictment further alleges that the Ed World defendants submitted petitions for H-2B temporary work visas that contained false and misleading information about the location where noncitizen laborers allegedly were to be employed. RHS paid a commission to Ed World for noncitizens Ed World recruited to work for RHS, including those who were not authorized to work for RHS in the United States.
According to the indictment, RHS and the RHS defendants also made false and misleading representations that RHS would staff positions at the hospitality establishments contracting with RHS only with laborers who were legally authorized to work for RHS in the United States.
Individual defendants have made their initial court appearances and the arraignment of all defendants will be scheduled before U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin W. Cheesbro of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. If convicted, the individual defendants face maximum potential statutory penalties of five years in prison on the count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States; 10 years in prison on the counts of encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, and transportation of aliens; and 20 years in prison on the counts of wire fraud conspiracy and substantive wire fraud. The organizational defendants are subject to a maximum fine on each count of conviction of $500,000 or twice the gross amount of gain or loss resulting from the offense. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General is investigating the case with assistance provided by HSI and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Sunday, April 18, 2021
High-Level Organizer of Notorious Hacking Group Sentenced to Prison for More than $1 Billion Scheme of Tens of Millions of Consumers Debit and Credit Cards
A Ukrainian national was sentenced in the Western District of Washington to 10 years in prison for his high-level role in the criminal work of the hacking group FIN7.
Fedir Hladyr, 35, served as a manager and systems administrator for FIN7. He was arrested in Dresden, Germany, in 2018, at the request of U.S. law enforcement and was extradited to Seattle, Washington. In September 2019, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking.
“The defendant and his conspirators compromised millions of financial accounts and caused over a billion dollars in losses to Americans and costs to the U.S. economy,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Protecting businesses – both large and small – online is a top priority for the Department of Justice. The department is committed to working with our international partners to hold such cyber criminals accountable, no matter where they reside or how anonymous they think they are.”
“This criminal organization had more than 70 people organized into business units and teams. Some were hackers, others developed the malware installed on computers, and still others crafted the malicious emails that duped victims into infecting their company systems,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman of the Western District of Washington. “This defendant worked at the intersection of all these activities and thus bears heavy responsibility for billions in damage caused to companies and individual consumers.”
“These cyber thieves orchestrated an elaborate network of hackers and systems to infiltrate businesses and exploit consumers’ personal information,” said Special Agent in Charge Donald M. Voiret of the FBI’s Seattle Field Office. “Their specialized skills to target certain industries amplified the damage exponentially. Thanks to the hard work of law enforcement partners both in the U.S. and overseas, these fraudsters are not beyond our reach and cannot hide from the law.”
According to documents filed in the case, since at least 2015, members of FIN7 (also referred to as Carbanak Group and the Navigator Group, among other names) engaged in a highly sophisticated malware campaign to attack hundreds of U.S. companies, predominantly in the restaurant, gambling, and hospitality industries. FIN7 hacked into thousands of computer systems and stole millions of customer credit and debit card numbers that were then used or sold for profit. FIN7, through its dozens of members, launched waves of malicious cyberattacks on numerous businesses operating in the United States and abroad. To execute its scheme, FIN7 carefully crafted email messages that would appear legitimate to a business’ employees, and accompanied emails with telephone calls intended to further legitimize the emails. Once a file attached to a fraudulent email was opened and activated, FIN7 would use an adapted version of the Carbanak malware, in addition to an arsenal of other tools, to access and steal payment card data for the business’s customers. Since 2015, many of the stolen payment card numbers have been offered for sale through online underground marketplaces.
In the United States alone, FIN7 successfully breached the computer networks of businesses in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, stealing more than 20 million customer card records from over 6,500 individual point-of-sale terminals at more than 3,600 separate business locations. According to court documents, victims incurred enormous costs that, according to some estimates, totaled billions of dollars. Additional intrusions occurred abroad, including in the United Kingdom, Australia, and France. Companies that have publicly disclosed hacks attributable to FIN7 include such chains as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Chili’s, Arby’s, Red Robin, and Jason’s Deli.
Hladyr originally joined FIN7 via a front company called Combi Security – a fake cyber security company that had a phony website and no legitimate customers. Hladyr admitted in his plea agreement that he soon realized that, rather than a legitimate company, Combi was part of a criminal enterprise. Hladyr served as FIN7’s systems administrator who, among other things, played a central role in aggregating stolen payment card information, supervising FIN7’s hackers, and maintaining the elaborate network of servers that FIN7 used to attack and control victims’ computers. Hladyr also controlled the organization’s encrypted channels of communication.
This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Seattle Cyber Task Force of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance, numerous computer security firms and financial institutions, FBI offices across the nation and globe, as well as a number of international agencies provided significant assistance. German law enforcement authorities provided significant assistance by arresting Hladyr.
Saturday, March 6, 2021
Countries should increase efforts to better deter, detect and disrupt the activities of professionals who enable tax evasion and other financial crimes, according to a new OECD report.
Ending the Shell Game: Cracking down on the Professionals who enable Tax and White Collar Crimes explores the different strategies and actions that countries can take against those professional service providers who play a crucial part in the planning and pursuit of criminal activity, referred to in the report as “professional enablers.” White collar crimes like tax evasion, bribery and corruption are often hidden through complex legal structures and financial transactions facilitated by lawyers, notaries, accountants, financial institutions and other professional enablers.
The report notes that the majority of professional service providers are law-abiding, and play an important role in assisting businesses and individuals understand and comply with the law. The aim of the new OECD report is to assist countries in dealing with the small subset that use their specialised skills and knowledge to enable clients to defraud the government and evade their tax obligations.
Professional enablers often play a critical role in the concealment of the commission of tax and other financial crimes perpetrated by their clients. Those who facilitate the concealment of such crimes undermine the rule of law and public confidence in the legal and financial system, as well as the level playing field between compliant and non-compliant taxpayers. Highly publicised recent tax scandals have highlighted the cross-border nature of these practices, further undermining public trust in the integrity of the tax system.
“Professional enablers often hold the key to the successful commission of white collar crimes like tax evasion, bribery and corruption, which depend on ensuring anonymity and hiding the financial trail,” said Grace-Perez Navarro, Deputy Director of the OECD’s Centre of Tax Policy and Administration. “Professional enablers help criminals conceal their identities and activities through shell companies, complex legal structures and financial transactions, relying on their specialised knowledge and veneer of legitimacy. Our ongoing work is intended to help countries develop and strengthen national strategies and international co-operation to crack down on the so-called professionals, whose actions are undermining government revenue, public confidence and economic growth.”
The report calls on countries to establish or strengthen national strategies to deal with professional enablers more effectively. Such strategies should:
- ensure that tax crime investigators are equipped to identify the types of professional enablers operating in their jurisdiction, and to understand the risks posed by how they devise, market, implement and conceal tax crime and financial crimes;
- ensure the law provides investigators and prosecutors with sufficient authority to identify, prosecute and sanction professional enablers, both to deter and penalise;
- implement multi-disciplinary prevention and disruption strategies, notably through engagement with supervisory, industry and professional bodies, to prevent abusive behaviour, incentivise early disclosure and whistle-blowing and take a strong approach to enforcement;
- ensure relevant authorities proactively maximise the availability of information, intelligence and investigatory powers held by other domestic and international agencies to tackle sophisticated professional enablers operating across borders;
- appoint a lead person and agency in the jurisdiction with responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the professional enablers strategy, undertake a review of its effectiveness over time and devise further changes as necessary.
Friday, March 5, 2021
Cryptocurrency Fraudster Pleads Guilty to Securities Fraud and Money Laundering Charges in Multi-Million Dollar Investment Scheme
A citizen of Sweden pleaded guilty to securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering charges that defrauded more than 3,500 victims of more than $16 million.
Roger Nils-Jonas Karlsson, 47, and his company, Eastern Metal Securities (EMS), was charged in a criminal complaint filed March 4, 2019, with crimes involving a scheme to defraud victims of more than $16 million. Karlsson, also known by several aliases including Steve Heyden, Euclid Deodoris, Joshua Millard, Lars Georgsson, Paramon Larasoft, and Kenth Westerberg, was arrested on June 17, 2019, in Thailand and was extradited to the United States to face the charges. A federal grand jury indicted Karlsson and EMS on July 25, 2019. Karlsson pleaded guilty to all the charges pending against him. EMS has ceased to exist.
The indictment and a factual basis filed by the government describe a long-running scheme by which Karlsson and EMS used a website to commit wire fraud against thousands of victims. Specifically, the indictment explains that from Nov. 27, 2012, through June 19, 2019, Karlsson and EMS used www.easternmetalsecurities.com to make fraudulent representations and convince victims to send funds using a virtual currency exchange. During the same period, Karlsson and EMS used deceptive “devices and contrivances” to sell securities and then tried to conceal the proceeds of the wire fraud and securities fraud.
During the proceedings, Karlsson admitted that he used the website to invite potential investors to purchase shares of the plan for less than $100 per share, promising an eventual payout of 1.15 kilograms of gold per share, an amount of gold which as of Jan. 2, 2019, was worth more than $45,000. Karlsson advised investors that, in the unlikely event that the gold payout did not happen, he guaranteed to them 97% of the amount they invested. Karlsson admitted he had no way to pay off the investors. Instead, the funds provided by victims were transferred to Karlsson’s personal bank accounts and he then used proceeds to purchase expensive homes and a resort in Thailand.
As the government has alleged, Karlsson also used a second website, www.hci25.com, to make multiple false communications to potential investors. Karlsson brought the investors in HCI25 together with the investors in the “Pre Funded Reversed Pension Plan” (PFRPP) and posted multiple communications to delay the moment investors would realize there would be no payout. For example, on one occasion, Karlsson explained that a payout had not occurred because releasing so much money all at once could cause a negative effect on financial systems throughout the world. Karlsson also falsely represented that EMS was working with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to prepare the way for a payout.
Karlsson directed his victims to make investments using virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin. Karlsson admitted he defrauded no less than 3,575 victims of more than $16 million.
Karlsson faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for the wire fraud and securities fraud charges, and 20 years in prison and a $500,000 maximum fine for the money laundering charge. In addition, the court also may order an additional term of supervised release, fines or other assessments, and restitution, if appropriate. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds of the Northern District of California; and Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington, D.C. Field Office made the announcement.
Trial Attorney Catherine Alden Pelker of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen are prosecuting this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Beausey of the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the forfeiture proceedings.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Criminal complaints have been unsealed charging two Ecuadorian citizens for their alleged roles in a bribery and money laundering scheme involving Ecuador’s public police pension fund (ISSPOL).
John Luzuriaga Aguinaga, 52, and Jorge Cherrez Miño, 46, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in complaints filed in the Southern District of Florida on Feb. 10 and Feb. 19, respectively. Luzuriaga was arrested Feb. 26 and had his initial appearance Monday. An arrest warrant has been issued for Cherrez who is believed to be in Mexico.
As alleged in the complaints, between approximately 2014 and 2020, Cherrez, an investment advisor, paid more than $2.6 million in bribes to ISSPOL officials, including at least approximately $1,397,066 to Luzuriaga, ISSPOL’s Risk Director and a member of ISSPOL’s Investment Committee, in order to obtain and retain investment business from ISSPOL. Cherrez allegedly obtained approximately $65 million in profits from one aspect of the scheme.
According to the complaint, Cherrez received payments from the ISSPOL investment business in an account in the United States, used Florida-based companies and bank accounts to pay the bribes, and took acts in furtherance of the bribery scheme while in the Southern District of Florida. Further, to conceal and promote the bribery scheme, Cherrez and Luzuriaga allegedly laundered the corrupt proceeds through Florida-based companies and bank accounts, including numerous U.S. investment fund companies incorporated in Florida with Cherrez as an officer or director.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Kelly Jackson of the IRS-Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Washington, D.C. office, and Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami office made the announcement.
This case is being investigated by HSI and IRS-CI, jointly under the auspices of the Global Illicit Financial Team. Trial Attorneys Katherine Raut and Alexander Kramer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case. Southern District of Florida Assistant United States Attorney Annika Miranda is handling asset forfeiture.
The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs has provided significant assistance in this case.
The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) matters. Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
To learn more about the government’s FCPA enforcement efforts, go to www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
Monday, March 1, 2021
A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Texas has returned an indictment charging eight individuals with various federal violations related to a complex international drug trafficking conspiracy, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei today.
Debbie Mercer, 58, and Kayleigh Moffett, 33, both of Oklahoma City; Federico Machado, 53, of Florida; Carlos Villaurrutia, 40, of McAllen, Texas; and four others were named in an indictment charging them with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit export violations, and conspiracy to commit federal registration violations involving aircraft. The indictment details approximately $350 million in alleged criminal activity since 2016. The seven-count superseding indictment was returned by a federal grand jury earlier this week and unsealed today. The defendants have already been arrested and will be arraigned in federal court next week.
“The threat posed by transnational crime cannot be overstated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei. “The use of United States-registered aircraft by these criminal organizations and their networks of associates poses a clear and present danger to the security of our nation. The American public can expect EDTX to be relentless in its fight against the sometimes invisible, but always dangerous, threat of transnational organized crime.”
“The indictments resulting from this highly complex investigation showcases HSI’s unique and far-reaching authorities, serving as an example of what the global law enforcement community can accomplish when we work together,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, Special Agent in Charge, HSI Dallas. “We were able to deliver a significant blow to the transnational criminal organizations around the world by exposing a money laundering and drug trafficking scheme perpetuated by sophisticated drug cartels.”
“As this case demonstrates, we will aggressively investigate the illegal exportation of aircraft contrary to U.S. national security interests,” said Trey McClish, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security – Office of Export Enforcement’s Dallas Field Office. “Alongside our Federal and State partners, OEE will leverage its unique criminal and administrative enforcement powers to detect and disrupt serious criminal schemes that violate U.S. export control law.”
“The indictment in this case demonstrate that individuals who choose to circumvent Federal regulations pertaining to aircraft registration and ownership will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law,” said Todd Damiani, Special Agent-In-Charge, Southern Region, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG). “The collaborative nature of this investigation is representative of the ongoing investigative work DOT-OIG performs to ensure aviation safety and maintain national security interests in order to prevent the nefarious acts these defendants are being charged with from occurring.”
According to unsealed court documents, the defendants allegedly purchased and illegally registered aircraft under foreign corporations and other individuals for export to other countries. The indictment specifically alleges that Mercer and Moffett, through their company Aircraft Guarantee Corporation (AGC), registered thousands of aircraft in Onalaska, Texas, an east Texas town without an airport.
According to the indictment, several of the illegally registered and exported aircraft were used by transnational criminal organizations in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to smuggle large quantities of cocaine destined for the United States. The indictment further alleges that illicit proceeds from the subsequent drug sales were then transported as bulk cash from the United States to Mexico and used to buy more aircraft and cocaine. According to the indictment, aircraft purchases were typically completed by wiring funds from casa de cambios and/or banks in Mexico to shell corporations operating in the United States as aircraft sellers/brokers.
The indictment describes that foreign governments seized United States-registered aircraft containing multi-ton shipments of cocaine. According to the indictment, the aircraft were held in trust by AGC for the benefit of foreign corporations or individuals. The indictment identifies Federico Machado, through his company South Aviation, and Carlos Villaurrutia, who used his companies TEXTON, TWA International, and Ford Electric, as aircraft sellers/brokers operating in the United States.
The indictment separately charges Mercer, Moffett, and Machado with engaging in a fraud scheme related to the acquisition of aircraft. According to the indictment, Machado recruited investors to invest in aircraft purchase deposits for sales transactions that never took place. Investors allegedly placed their funds in an escrow account held by Wright Brothers Title Company, which was owned and managed by Mercer and Moffett. Machado then allegedly used these funds for purposes other than the purchase of aircraft.
If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison for the drug conspiracy charges and up to 20 years for the money laundering, export and wire fraud violations.
This is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) case and is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (Dallas, Brownsville and Laredo offices); Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (Dallas and Houston offices); Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG); Polk County Constable Precinct 1; Southeast Texas Export Investigations Group; Internal Revenue Service; and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ernest Gonzalez, Colleen Bloss and Robert Wells. OCDETF is the largest anti-crime task force in the country and its mission is to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States. The prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency task forces leverage the authorities and expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement.
Friday, February 26, 2021
A Serbian man was charged in an indictment today for his alleged participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency scheme in which he solicited U.S. investors using two fraudulent online investment platforms.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme of the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge Kristi K. Johnson of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Los Angeles Field Office made the announcement.
Kristijan Krstic, 45, was charged in an indictment filed today in the Eastern District of New York with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
According to the indictment, Krstic was the founder of two digital-asset investment platforms, “Start Options” and “B2G,” and also served as the chief financial officer of Start Options. As alleged, between approximately 2017 and 2018, Krstic and others fraudulently induced U.S.-based investors to purchase securities in the form of investment contracts in Start Options and B2G. In order to perpetuate the fraud, Krstic allegedly used the alias “Felix Logan” and created the Twitter handle “@felixlogan_cfo” to communicate with investors in Start Options and B2G.
The indictment alleges that Start Options purported to be an online investment platform that provided cryptocurrency mining and digital-asset trading services, including trading in cryptocurrencies, commodities, stocks, and indices. Start Options also allegedly claimed that it was “the largest Bitcoin exchange in euro volume and liquidity” and that it was “consistently rated the best and most secure Bitcoin exchange by independent news media.” The indictment further alleges that B2G purported to be an “ecosystem” that would allow users to trade B2G tokens, as well as digital and fiat currencies, “on a secure, comprehensive platform.”
As alleged, Krstic and others represented that once investors opened a B2G account, a deposit of B2G “open[ed] a door to all the curtains inside Aladdin’s cave. Dollars buy B2G; B2G tokens can be exchanged back into dollars, or for Euros, or for other national fiat currencies. B2G holdings can be traded for original bitcoin or other altcoins.”
According to the indictment, however, both Start Options and B2G were fraudulent. In truth, the money sent by investors in Start Options and B2G allegedly was never invested and instead was laundered internationally to a Phillippines-based financial account and digital-currency wallet, and diverted to a U.S.-based promoter of the fraud. Subsequently, as alleged, the promoter transferred to Krstic approximately $7 million in investor funds from B2G and Start Options, and Krstic thereafter stopped responding to all communications and absconded with those investors’ funds. A press release issued by Start Options claimed that the company had been sold to Russian venture capitalists.
The former Director of North American Operations for Start Options and B2G, John DeMarr, 55, of Santa Ana, California, was previously charged for his role in the scheme.
Thursday, February 25, 2021
White collar crimes like tax evasion, bribery, and corruption are often concealed through complex legal structures and financial transactions facilitated by lawyers, accountants, financial institutions and other "professional enablers" of such crimes. These crimes have significant impacts on government revenue, public confidence and economic growth, including the recovery from COVID-19. This report sets out a range of strategies and actions for countries to take to tackle professional intermediaries who enable tax evasion and other financial crimes on behalf of their criminal clients. The report highlights the damaging role played by these intermediaries and the importance of concerted domestic and international action in clamping down on the enablers of crime, and includes recommended counter-strategies for deterring, disrupting, investigating and prosecuting the professionals who enable tax and white collar crimes.
- OECD work on tax and crime
2021 OECD GLOBAL ANTI-CORRUPTION & INTEGRITY FORUM
This report will be presented at the virtual OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum on 23-25 March 2021. You are invited to register to the event and join the session on "Professional Enablers of Tax Crime" taking place on 24 March 2021 at 16:45 (CET). This session will highlight the damaging role played by intermediaries who enable financial crimes on behalf of their criminal clients, and the importance of concerted domestic and international action in clamping down on the enablers of crime.
Friday, February 19, 2021
Political Donor to Presidential Campaign Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison for Campaign Crimes as Agent of Foreign Government
A venture capitalist and political fundraiser was sentenced today to 144 months in federal prison for falsifying records to conceal his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. government officials, evading the payment of millions of dollars in taxes, making illegal campaign contributions, and obstructing a federal investigation into the source of donations to a presidential inauguration committee.
Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, of Arcadia, California, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered him to pay $15,705,080 in restitution and a criminal fine of $1.75 million.
In November 2019, Zuberi pleaded guilty to a three-count information charging him with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by making false statements on a FARA filing, tax evasion, and making illegal campaign contributions. In June 2020, Zuberi pleaded guilty in a separate case to one count of obstruction of justice. His sentence today pertains to both cases.
“Zuberi turned acting as an unregistered foreign agent into a business enterprise,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “He used foreign money to fund illegal campaign contributions that bought him political influence, and used that influence to lobby U.S. officials for policy changes on behalf of numerous foreign principals. He not only concealed his lucrative agreements with those foreign principals, but also made false statements about them in a FARA filing. After learning he was under investigation, Zuberi doubled down on his criminal conduct, obstructing justice by creating false records, destroying evidence, and attempting to purchase witnesses’ silence. This sentence should deter others who would seek to corrupt our political processes and compromise our institutions in exchange for foreign cash.”
“Mr. Zuberi flouted federal laws that restrict foreign influences upon our government and prohibit injecting foreign money into our political campaigns. He enriched himself by defrauding his clients and evading the payment of taxes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison for the Central District of California. “Today’s sentence, which also accounts for Mr. Zuberi’s attempt to obstruct an investigation into his felonious conduct, underscores the importance of our ongoing efforts to maintain transparency in U.S. elections and policy-making processes.”
"As Mr. Zuberi’s greed and wealth increased, his elaborate influence-peddling scheme collapsed,” said Assistant Director in Charge Kristi K. Johnson of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. “By lending a veneer of credibility through name dropping and flashing photos with high-level government officials, Zuberi was able to con foreign donors. Now that he’s been sentenced, he will be held accountable by the United States government which he so recklessly misrepresented.”
“Through myriad international contacts and business partners, Imaad Shah Zuberi was able to raise money and gain influence among the U.S.’s highest political circles. Zuberi used his status to solicit funds for lobbying, campaign contributions, and investments, but ultimately swindled his business partners and pocketed most of the funds for himself,” said Special Agent in Charge Ryan Korner of IRS-Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office. “An opportunist at his core, Zuberi worked with political figures across the aisle, depending on who was in power, to lend an appearance of credibility to his political charades. At the end of the day, IRS Criminal Investigation worked closely with our partner federal agencies to ensure Zuberi’s criminal behavior would not pay off, and that he was held accountable for paying himself rather than using the funds he solicited for their original intended purpose.”
Zuberi operated Avenue Ventures LLC, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, and solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments with claims he could use his contacts in Washington, D.C., to change U.S. foreign policy and create business opportunities for his clients and himself.
Clients gave Zuberi money for consulting fees, to make investments, or to fund campaign contributions. As part of his efforts to influence public policy, Zuberi hired lobbyists, retained public relations professionals, and made campaign contributions that gave him access to high-level U.S. officials, some of whom acted in support of his clients. As evidence of his access and influence, Zuberi distributed to his clients photographs of himself discussing policy with elected officials.
While Zuberi had a limited degree of success with some U.S. officials, most of his business efforts failed and his clients suffered significant financial losses. Many of the lobbyists, public relations consultants, and other subcontractors also suffered losses when Zuberi refused to pay them. Meanwhile, Zuberi became wealthy, largely through his theft of client funds and unlawful lobbying on behalf of foreign interests.
For example, Zuberi made efforts to convince the government of Bahrain to lift sanctions on a Bahraini citizen in order to allow the citizen to develop a large resort in that country. The scheme falsely created the appearance that Avenue Ventures had made a major investment in the resort project. Citing this purported investment, Zuberi lobbied members of Congress to apply political pressure on Bahrain to cease its interference in the project, claiming that it was adversely affecting him as a U.S. investor. At Zuberi’s urging, at least a dozen members of Congress sent letters to the government of Bahrain requesting that it stop interfering with the project. In fact, however, Zuberi designed these efforts to benefit the Bahraini citizen, who paid Zuberi consulting fees. Zuberi violated FARA by failing to register as an agent of the Bahraini citizen in connection with this scheme.
Zuberi also siphoned money invested in U.S. Cares, a company set up to export humanitarian aid to Iran. In 2013 and 2014, investors deposited approximately $7 million into U.S. Cares, but Zuberi used more than 90 percent of investor funds for his personal benefit, which included purchasing real estate, paying down debt such as mortgages and credit card bills, remodeling properties, investing in brokerage accounts, and donating $250,000 to a non-profit organization established by a former high-ranking elected official.
In addition, the government of Sri Lanka hired Zuberi in 2014 to rehabilitate the country’s image in the United States, which had suffered because of allegations that its minority Tamil population had been persecuted. Zuberi promised to make substantial expenditures on lobbying efforts, legal expenses, and media buys, which prompted Sri Lanka to agree to pay Zuberi a total of $8.5 million over the course of six months in 2014. Days after Sri Lanka made an initial payment of $3.5 million, Zuberi transferred $1.6 million into his personal brokerage accounts and used another $1.5 million to purchase real estate.
In total, Sri Lanka wired $6.5 million pursuant to the contract, and Zuberi used more than $5.65 million of that money to the benefit of himself and his wife. Zuberi paid less than $850,000 to lobbyists, public relations firms and law firms, and refused to pay certain subcontractors based on false claims that Sri Lanka had not provided sufficient funds to pay invoices.
Relatedly, Zuberi failed to report on his 2014 tax return millions of dollars in income he received from the Sri Lankan government. While his 2014 federal income tax return claimed income of $558,233, Zuberi failed to report more than $5.65 million he received in relation to the Sri Lanka lobbying effort. Zuberi’s tax evasion over the course of four years – 2012 through 2015 – caused tax losses ranging from $3.5 million to as much as $9.5 million.
Zuberi also violated the Federal Election Campaign Act in 2015 by making conduit contributions in the names of other people, reimbursing contributions made by others, and being reimbursed for contributions he made. Over a five-year period – 2012 through 2016 – he made or solicited more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
The obstruction charge to which Zuberi pleaded guilty in June 2020 stemmed from a federal investigation into a $900,000 donation from Zuberi through his company to a presidential inaugural committee in late 2016. Some of the funds Zuberi donated to the committee came from other people, including one individual who gave him a $50,000 check.
After media reports that a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York was investigating donations to the presidential inaugural committee, Zuberi met with the individual at a California restaurant on Feb. 25, 2019. During that meeting, the individual asked Zuberi to refund the $50,000, which Zuberi did, but backdated the check to Feb. 1, 2019, to make it appear the refund was sent before he learned of the federal investigation.
This matter was investigated by the FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation.
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
A federal grand jury returned an indictment today charging Lucia Andrea Gatta, a former resident of Palm Beach County, Florida, with tax evasion and failing to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs), among other offenses, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan for the Southern District of Florida.
According to the indictment, Gatta was born in Chile and became a naturalized U.S. Citizen in 2012. The indictment alleges that, for calendar years 2012 through 2014, Gatta failed to disclose her interest in a Swiss bank account on annual FBARs as required by law. Gatta also allegedly evaded assessment of income taxes on the interest and dividend income she earned in her Swiss bank account and failed to file tax returns with the IRS for tax years 2011 through 2014.
The indictment also charges Gatta with naturalization fraud. According to the indictment, Gatta did not disclose to the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that she had failed to report foreign dividend and interest income during her citizenship application process, and she allegedly presented misleading documents to USCIS to substantiate the false statements she made during her naturalization interview.
If convicted, Gatta faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each count relating to her failure to file an FBAR and tax evasion. She also faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison for each of the counts concerning the failure to file tax returns. If convicted of naturalization fraud, Gatta faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and automatic denaturalization.
Monday, February 15, 2021
A Florida man pleaded guilty today for fraudulently obtaining approximately $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and using those funds, in part, to purchase a $318,000 Lamborghini sports car for himself.
Authorities seized the Lamborghini and $3.4 million from the bank accounts of David T. Hines, 29, of Miami, at the time of his arrest. Hines pleaded guilty today to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Kyle A. Myles of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), Office of Investigation’s Atlanta Regional Office, Inspector in Charge Antonio Gomez of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Miami Division, Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) OIG, Investigations Division, Eastern Regional Office, Acting Special Agent in Charge Tyler R. Hatcher of the IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) Miami Office, and Acting Special Agent in Charge Stephen Donnelly of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection OIG, Eastern Region, made the announcement.
As part of his guilty plea, Hines admitted that he fraudulently sought millions of dollars in PPP loans through applications to an insured financial institution on behalf of different companies. Hines caused to be submitted fraudulent loan applications that made numerous false and misleading statements about the companies’ respective payroll expenses. The financial institution approved and funded approximately $3.9 million in PPP loans.
Hines further admitted that within days of receiving the PPP funds, he used the funds to purchase a 2020 Lamborghini Huracan sports car for approximately $318,000. Plea documents indicate that in the days and weeks following the disbursement of PPP funds, Hines did not make payroll payments that he claimed on his loan applications. He did, however, use the PPP proceeds for personal expenses.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding, and in December 2020, Congress authorized another $284 billion in additional funding.
The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1%. Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.
This case was investigated by the FDIC-OIG, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, IRS-CI, the SBA-OIG, and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection OIG. Trial Attorney Emily Scruggs of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Berger of the Southern District of Florida are prosecuting the case.
The Fraud Section leads the Department’s prosecution of fraud schemes that exploit the PPP. In the months since the CARES Act passed, Fraud Section attorneys have prosecuted more than 100 defendants in more than 70 criminal cases. The Fraud Section has also seized more than $60 million in cash proceeds derived from fraudulently obtained PPP funds, as well as numerous real estate properties and luxury items purchased with such proceeds. More information can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/ppp-fraud.
Sunday, February 14, 2021
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
A Nevada man was charged in an indictment Wednesday for his alleged participation in a scheme to defraud multiple financial institutions by filing bank loan applications that fraudulently sought more than $1.9 million dollars in forgivable loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Download Abramovs indictment
Nicholas L. McQuaid, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Nicholas A. Trutanich, U.S. Attorney of the District of Nevada; Aaron C. Rouse, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Las Vegas Field Office; and Weston King, Special Agent in Charge of the SBA Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) Western Region Office made the announcement.
Jorge Abramovs, 40, of Las Vegas, was charged in an indictment filed in the District of Nevada with five counts of bank fraud, one count of making false statements to a bank, and five counts of money laundering. Abramovs had been charged initially with bank fraud in a criminal complaint and was arrested on Jan. 17, 2021. On Jan. 22, 2021, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach ordered that Abramovs be detained pending trial.
The indictment alleges that Abramovs obtained nearly $2 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from seven different lenders by, among other things, submitting multiple loan applications in the names of three different businesses while falsely claiming to have numerous employees earning wages. The indictment further alleges that Abramovs used the PPP funds for personal (rather than business) purposes, including purchasing a Tesla, a Bentley, two condominiums, and paying his home mortgage.
The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding, and in December 2020, Congress authorized another $284 billion in additional funding.
The PPP allows qualifying small-businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1 percent. PPP loan proceeds must be used by businesses on payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.
A federal criminal indictment is merely an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The FBI and SBA-OIG investigated the case. Trial Attorney Joseph McFarlane of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Oliva of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada are prosecuting the case.
The Fraud Section leads the department’s prosecution of fraud schemes that exploit the PPP. In the nine months since the PPP began, Fraud Section attorneys have prosecuted more than 100 defendants in more than 70 criminal cases. The Fraud Section has also seized more than $60 million in cash proceeds derived from fraudulently obtained PPP funds, as well as numerous real estate properties and luxury items purchased with such proceeds. More information can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/ppp-fraud.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Six individuals were charged in an indictment with fraudulently obtaining approximately $1.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans on behalf of five businesses based in Georgia and South Carolina. Download Thompson et al indictment
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine of the Northern District of Georgia; Special Agent in Charge Chris Hacker of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kupperbusch of the Small Business Association Office of Inspector General (SBA OIG) Eastern Region; and Special Agent in Charge Mark Maroni of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) Southeast Field Division made the announcement.
Rodericque Thompson, 43, of Atlanta, Georgia, Micah K. Baisden, 30, of Doraville, Georgia, Travis C. Crosby, 31, of Wellford, South Carolina, Keith A. Maloney Jr., 33, of Port Wentworth, Georgia, Tabronx W. Smith, 43, of Buford, Georgia, and Thomas D. Wilson, 30, of Atlanta, were charged in an indictment filed in the Northern District of Georgia with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, false statements to a financial institution, and money laundering.
These individuals were allegedly part of a larger group that together have fraudulently obtained approximately $3.0 million in PPP loans. To date, authorities have recovered approximately $1,195,784.98 of the stolen money.
The indictment alleges that Thompson recruited Baisden, Crosby, Maloney, Smith, and Wilson to apply for PPP loans on behalf of their respective businesses, PowerHouse Sports Academy LLC, Faithful Transport Services LLC, KMJ Transport LLC, Market Yourself LLC, and Rare Breed Nation LLC. With Thompson’s help, Baisden, Crosby, Maloney, Smith, and Wilson each allegedly obtained a $300,000 PPP loan by submitting loan applications containing numerous false and misleading statements about their businesses. Thompson allegedly aided the applicants in submitting the fraudulent loan applications in exchange for a percentage of the loan proceeds.
The following five individuals have pleaded guilty in connection with this alleged scheme:
- Antonio D. Hosey, of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering(20-CR-396-LMM);
- Timothy Williams, of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty to a two-count information charging conspiracy to commit wire fraud and making false statements(20-CR-339-LMM);
- Stanley Dorceus, of Marietta, Georgia, pleaded guilty to a two-count information charging conspiracy to commit wire fraud and making false statements (20-CR-320-LMM);
- Kenneth L. Wright, Jr., of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty to a two-count information charging conspiracy to commit wire fraud and making false statements (20-CR-285-LMM); and
- Mark A. Stewart, of Greenville, South Carolina, pleaded guilty to a two-count information charging conspiracy to commit wire fraud and making false statements (20-CR-319-LMM).
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted March 29, 2020. It is designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.
The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of one percent. Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.
Monday, February 8, 2021
Businessman Sentenced for Foreign Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme Involving PetroEcuador Officials
An Ecuadorian businessman living in Miami was sentenced today to 35 months in prison for his role in a $4.4 million bribery and money laundering scheme that funneled bribes to then-public officials of Empresa Pública de Hidrocarburos del Ecuador (PetroEcuador), the state-owned and state-controlled oil company of Ecuador.
Nicholas L. McQuaid, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
According to his plea, Armengol Alfonso Cevallos Diaz, 58, admitted that from 2012 through 2015 he conspired to solicit, intermediate, and pay bribes of $4.4 million from an oil services company and companies associated with or controlled by Cevallos to PetroEcuador officials by using U.S.-based companies and U.S.-based bank accounts in order to obtain and retain business from PetroEcuador. Cevallos also admitted to conspiring to conceal and promote the bribe scheme by laundering the funds through Miami-based shell companies and bank accounts that were used to acquire properties in the Miami area for the benefit of certain PetroEcuador officials.
Cevallos is the latest individual to be sentenced in the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into bribery and money laundering involving PetroEcuador. The individuals prosecuted include former PetroEcuador officials who received and concealed the bribe payments, businessmen and contractors who paid the bribes to obtain contracts from PetroEcuador, and intermediaries who enabled and facilitated the bribery through the use of U.S. and offshore companies and bank accounts.
The FBI’s International Corruption Squad in Miami is investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Jonathan Robell and Katherine Raut of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Trial Attorney Randall Warden of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) prosecuted the case.
IRS-Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in this case, as have public authorities in, among other countries, Ecuador and Panama.
MLARS’s Bank Integrity Unit investigates and prosecutes banks and other financial institutions, including their officers, managers, and employees, whose actions threaten the integrity of the individual institution or the wider financial system.
Sunday, February 7, 2021
You may know the FTC for its consumer information, and for taking action against shady companies that violate the law. But did you know the FTC returns millions of dollars to people as a result of those actions? In fact, last year, 1.7 million people nationwide and in 64 countries received payments totaling $483 million because of the FTC’s enforcement actions. People got refunds resulting from more than 50 FTC cases. The most money — around $300 million — went back to about 142,000 people because of a settlement with Western Union.
When the FTC sends refunds, it usually uses customer lists and contact information it gets from the defendants. If that information isn’t available, the agency may ask people to file a claim or use its Consumer Sentinel database to find people who are eligible for a refund. The database includes reports people make to the FTC, Better Business Bureaus, and federal, state, and local law enforcement offices. When you report a scam or fraud, you may help law enforcement, and yourself. For example, many people who reported sending money to lottery, romance, sweepstakes or other online scammers through Western Union got full refunds in 2020.
The FTC will never require you to pay fees in advance, or ask for sensitive information, like your bank account information. If someone contacts you and says they’re from the FTC but they want you to send money, it’s a scam. Even if they claim to be FTC Chairman Joe Simons — like some scammers have — if they ask for money, it’s a scam.
Friday, February 5, 2021
The Justice Department today announced its participation in a multinational operation involving actions in the United States, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom to disrupt and take down the infrastructure of the malware and botnet known as Emotet. Additionally, officials in Lithuania, Sweden, and Ukraine assisted in this major cyber investigative action.
“The Emotet malware and botnet infected hundreds of thousands of computers throughout the United States, including our critical infrastructure, and caused millions of dollars in damage to victims worldwide,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin. “Cyber criminals will not escape justice regardless of where they operate. Working with public and private partners around the world we will relentlessly pursue them while using the full arsenal of tools at our disposal to disrupt their threats and prosecute those responsible.”
According to an unsealed search warrant affidavit, Emotet is a family of malware that targets critical industries worldwide, including banking, e‑commerce, healthcare, academia, government, and technology. Emotet malware primarily infects victim computers through spam email messages containing malicious attachments or hyperlinks. Emails were designed to appear to come from a legitimate source or someone in the recipient’s contact list. Once it has infected a victim computer, Emotet can deliver additional malware to the infected computer, such as ransomware or malware that steals financial credentials. Ransomware, in particular, has increased in scope and severity in the past year, harming businesses, healthcare providers, and government agencies even as the country has struggled to respond to the pandemic.
“The coordinated disruption of Emotet was a great success for the FBI and our international partners,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI utilized sophisticated techniques, our unique legal authorities, and most importantly, our worldwide partnerships to significantly disrupt the malware. The operation is an example of how much we can achieve when we work with our international law enforcement partners to combat the cyber threat. The FBI remains committed, now more than ever, to imposing risk and consequences on cyber criminals to put an end to this type of criminal activity.”
The computers infected with Emotet malware are part of a botnet (i.e., a network of compromised computers), meaning the perpetrators can remotely control all the infected computers in a coordinated manner. The owners and operators of the victim computers are typically unaware of the infection.
“Cybercrime transcends physical and political boundaries and costs U.S. citizens and businesses billions each year,” said U.S. Attorney Matt Martin of the Middle District of North Carolina. “That was certainly true with Emotet. Now, more than ever, international collaboration is an imperative as we employ a technically and legally sophisticated approach to thwart cybercriminals in whatever corner of the globe they are found. This investigation will be a paradigm for effective international law enforcement cooperation directed at global cybercrime, and we applaud the FBI and the international law enforcement partners who contributed to the effort to take down this global threat.”
According to the affidavit, in 2017, for example, the computer network of a school district in the Middle District of North Carolina was infected with the Emotet malware. The Emotet infection caused damage to the school’s computers, including but not limited to the school’s network, which was disabled for approximately two weeks. In addition, the infection caused more than $1.4 million in losses, including but not limited to the cost of virus mitigation services and replacement computers. From 2017 to the present, there have been numerous other victims throughout North Carolina and the United States, to include computer networks of local, state, tribal, and federal governmental units, corporations, and networks related to critical infrastructure.
“The Emotet malware quickly elevated to one of the top cyber threats in the world,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert R. Wells of the FBI Charlotte Field Office. “The strong relationships with international law enforcement partners were critical to the success of this FBI investigation which began with a small North Carolina school system that did the right thing and quickly contacted their local FBI office for help.”
According to the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Emotet infections have cost local, state, tribal, and territorial governments up to $1 million per incident to remediate. More information about the malware, including technical information for organizations about how to mitigate its effects, is available from CISA here: https://us-cert.cisa.gov/ncas/alerts/TA18-201A.
According to the affidavit, foreign law enforcement agents, working in coordination with the FBI, gained lawful access to Emotet servers located overseas and identified the Internet Protocol addresses of approximately 1.6 million computers worldwide that appear to have been infected with Emotet malware between April 1, 2020, and Jan. 17, 2021. Of those, over 45,000 infected computers appear to have been located in the United States.
Foreign law enforcement, working in collaboration with the FBI, replaced Emotet malware on servers located in their jurisdiction with a file created by law enforcement, according to the affidavit. This was done with the intent that computers in the United States and elsewhere that were infected by the Emotet malware would download the law enforcement file during an already-programmed Emotet update. The law enforcement file prevents the administrators of the Emotet botnet from further communicating with infected computers. The law enforcement file does not remediate other malware that was already installed on the infected computer through Emotet; instead, it is designed to prevent additional malware from being installed on the infected computer by untethering the victim computer from the botnet.
The scope of this law enforcement action was limited to the information installed on infected computers by the Emotet operators and did not extend to the information of the owners and users of the computers.
According to the affidavit, in coordination with foreign law enforcement officials, FBI personnel also gained lawful access to an Emotet distribution server located overseas and identified several servers worldwide that were used to distribute the Emotet malware. These servers were typically compromised web servers belonging to what appear to be unknowing third parties. The perpetrators uploaded the Emotet malware to the servers through unauthorized software applications. Victims who clicked on spam email messages containing malicious attachments or hyperlinks would then download the initial Emotet malware file from a distribution server.
In addition, according to the affidavit, FBI personnel notified more than 20 U.S.-based hosting providers that they hosted more than 45 IP addresses that had been compromised by the perpetrators associated with the Emotet malware and botnet. FBI Legal Attachés further notified authorities in more than 50 countries that hosting providers in their respective jurisdictions hosted hundreds of IP addresses that were compromised by Emotet.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, the FBI Charlotte Division, and the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) conducted the operation in close cooperation with Europol and Eurojust who were an integral part of coordination and messaging, and investigators and prosecutors from several jurisdictions, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, France’s National Police and Judicial Court of Paris, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police and General Public Prosecutor’s Office Frankfurt/Main, Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau, Netherlands National Police and National Public Prosecution Office, Swedish Police Authority, National Police of Ukraine and Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) also provided significant assistance. CCIPS Senior Counsel Ryan K.J. Dickey and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric Iverson and Anand Ramaswamy of the Middle District of North Carolina led the U.S. efforts.
More information about the operation is available by clicking: Eurojust/Europol. In addition, the Dutch National Police have created the following website to check whether your email address has been compromised by the administrators of Emotet: https://www.politie.nl/emocheck.
Thursday, February 4, 2021
The Federal Trade Commission received more than 2.1 million fraud reports from consumers in 2020, according to newly released data, with imposter scams remaining the most common type of fraud reported to the agency.
Online shopping was the second-most common fraud category reported by consumers, elevated by a surge of reports in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Internet services; prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries; and telephone and mobile services rounded out the top five fraud categories.
Consumers reported losing more than $3.3 billion to fraud in 2020, up from $1.8 billion in 2019. Nearly $1.2 billion of losses reported last year were due to imposter scams, while online shopping accounted for about $246 million in reported losses from consumers.
Just over a third of all consumers who filed a fraud report with the FTC—34 percent—reported losing money, up from just 23 percent in 2019.
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network is a database that receives reports directly from consumers, as well as from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, the Better Business Bureau, industry members, and non-profit organizations. This year, the FTC welcomed the data contributions of the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. Twenty-five states now contribute to Sentinel. Reports from around the country about consumer protection issues are a key resource for FTC investigations that stop illegal activities and, when possible, provide refunds to consumers.
Sentinel received more than 4.7 million reports in 2020; these include the fraud reports detailed above, as well as identity theft reports and complaints related to other consumer issues, such as problems with credit bureaus and banks and lenders. In 2020, there were nearly 1.4 million reports of identity theft, received through the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov website, about twice as many as in 2019.
Of the identity theft reports received in 2020, 406,375 came from people who said their information was misused to apply for a government document or benefit, such as unemployment insurance. That represents a tremendous increase from 2019, when the number was 23,213.
In 2020, the FTC introduced ReportFraud.ftc.gov, an updated platform for filing reports with the agency. The FTC uses the reports it receives through the Sentinel network as the starting point for many of its law enforcement investigations, and the agency also shares these reports with about 2,800 law enforcement users around the country. While the FTC does not intervene in individual complaints, Sentinel reports are a vital part of the agency’s law enforcement mission.
A full breakdown of reports received in 2020 is now available on the FTC’s data analysis site at ftc.gov/exploredata. The data dashboards there breakdown the reports across a numbers of categories, including by state and metropolitan area, as well as exploring a number of subcategories of fraud reports.