NEW YORK – Indians Manish Patel and his wife, Nikita Shukla, both 26, pleaded guilty in September to one count of wire fraud and were sentenced by U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller, last week.
Patel was sentenced to 38 months in prison and ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution and Shukla was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay $149,531 in restitution.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Patel and Shukla drove from Florida to Minnesota and used more than 140 fake IDs with Patel’s photo, picking up MoneyGram orders for conspirators from foreign call centers.
They were caught in May at a Walmart in Greenfield, Wisconsin, where agents arrested the couple who had appeared on their radar a couple of months earlier, after a victim in Minnesota called police about a payment made at that Walmart.
According to federal court records:
In March, someone pretending to be from the IRS called a Minnesota woman and said she owed $4,900 and could make a $2,000 down payment via MoneyGram to Jaxson Jones at the Walmart in Greenfield, Wisconsin.
But after sending the money, the woman had second thoughts and called police who then found video footage of Jaxson Jones collecting the $2,000 on March 6, he was later determined to be Patel,
The security at the store also checked more video footage and saw Patel picking up other payments, from $950 to nearly $1,150 under different names.
Investigators then went through the MoneyGram records and found that there were people using those three names and they had made 40 MoneyGram transactions worth about $40,000, in four states including at a Walmart in Franklin, Wisconsin.
The video footage there showed that the person was Patel.
Investigators then learned that the Saturn Vue that Patel got into after each transaction, was registered to Shukla and that it had been at a Glendale motel in March, where Patel was also seen on video footage, but was using a different ID.
Then in May, security at the Greendale Walmart, called agents to say Patel was in line to cash a MoneyGram.
When he was done, he went out and got into his car where Shukla was in the passenger seat.
Agents followed him to the Walmart in Greenfield and while returning to his car after completing another transaction, Patel was arrested.
Investigators found $2,999 and two fake North Carolina IDs on him with 147 driver’s licenses in the car, all with Patel’s picture on them, $8,590 in the glove box and $13,082 in Shukla’s purse.
Patel then admitted that he and his wife had been driving around picking up MoneyGrams for about four months, depositing the money in accounts as instructed and keeping 4 percent as payment.
In a memo to the court, Patel’s attorney Joshua Uller, argued for a shorter sentence of about seven months for Patel as he said that “Patel had no criminal record and was merely a runner following directions about where to go, which ID to use and where to send the money ‘and each transaction has a story behind it. Each story involves a trail of some level of harm: anger, financial hardship, depression, damaged credit, health problems, lost trust, sleeplessness and debt,’” Uller wrote.
However, Uller wrote that “Patel had no appreciation of the nature of the scam, its victims or the harm they suffered and now that he does, Patel ‘feels overwhelming sadness, guilt, remorse and disappointment.’”