An Indian national pleaded guilty May 11, to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering for his role in a massive call-center scheme operating via India, where American victims were defrauded with threatening calls pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Harsh Patel, 28, an Indian national who most recently lived in Piscataway, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. Sentencing is set for Aug. 7.
According to admissions he made in the plea, Patel and his co-conspirators carried out a complex scheme in which individuals from call centers located in Ahmedabad, impersonated officials from the IRS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to defraud victims living in the United States, a press release from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas said.
Victims 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 funds.
According to his plea, since around January 2015, Patel worked as a runner operating primarily in New Jersey, California and Illinois. At the direction of India-based co-conspirators, often via electronic WhatsApp text communications, Patel admitted to purchasing reloadable cards registered with misappropriated personal identifying information of U.S. citizens. Once victim scam proceeds were loaded onto those cards, Patel admitted he liquidated the proceeds on the cards and transferred the funds into money orders for deposit into various bank accounts while keeping a perceAntage of the victim funds for himself. Patel also admitted to receiving fake identification documents from an India-based co-conspirator and other sources and using those documents to receive victim scam payments via wire transfers.
To date, Patel, 55 other individuals, and five India-based call centers have been charged for their roles in the fraud and money laundering scheme in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016. Patel is the third defendant thus far to plead guilty in this case. Co-defendants Bharatkumar Patel, aka Bharat Patel, 43, and Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, 28, pleaded guilty on April 13, and April 26, respectively this year.