An Arizona man and an Illinois woman, both Indian-Americans, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges July 7, for their respective roles in liquidating and laundering payments from victims that were generated through a massive telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering scheme perpetrated by India-based call centers.
Numerous Indians and Indian-Americans living in the United States and Canada, have experienced these fraud impersonation calls, and some have become victims in what is considered one of the largest call-center scams ever uncovered by U.S. law enforcement. The investigation into the case has engaged numerous U.S. federal and state-level departments nationwide, including in New Jersey, as well as Interpol and India’s law enforcement agencies.
Bhavesh Patel, 47, most recently a resident of Gilbert, Arizona, pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy, and Asmitaben Patel, 34, most recently living in Willowbrook, Illinois, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering offenses. The pleas were entered before U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. Sentencing dates are pending, according to a press release from the Justice Department.
According to admissions made in connection with their respective pleas, Bhavesh Patel, Asmitaben Patel, 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, to defraud victims located throughout the U.S. Call center operators threatened victims 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.
According to Bhavesh Patel’s guilty plea, beginning in or around January 2014, he managed the activities of a crew of runners, directing them to liquidate victim scam funds in areas in and around south and central Arizona per the instructions of conspirators from India-based call centers. Patel communicated via telephone about the liquidation of scam funds with both domestic and India-based co-defendants, and he and his crew 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 percentage-based commissions from his India-based co-defendants. Patel also admitted to receiving and using fake identification documents, including phony driver’s licenses, to retrieve victim scam payments in the form of wire transfers, and providing those fake documents to persons he managed for the same purpose.
Asmitaben Patel’s guilty plea admits that beginning in or around July 2013, she served as a runner liquidating victim scam funds as part of a group of conspirators operating in and around the Chicago area. At the direction of a co-defendant, she used stored value cards that had been loaded with victim funds to buy money orders and deposit them into various bank accounts, including the account of a lead generating business in order to pay the company for leads it provided to co-conspirators that were ultimately used to facilitate the scam.
To date, Bhavesh Patel, Asmitaben Patel, 54 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. Including today’s pleas, a total of eleven defendants have pleaded guilty thus far in this case. Co-defendants Bharatkumar Patel, Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, Harsh Patel, Nilam Parikh, Hardik Patel, Rajubhai Patel, Viraj Patel, Dilipkumar A. Patel, and Fahad Ali previously pleaded guilty on various dates between April and June 2017.
The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.