US: Indian national pleads guilty to multi-million dollar call centre scam

New York: A 28-year-old Indian national in the US has pleaded guilty for his role in a multi-million dollar scam in which individuals from call centres located in India impersonated US tax and immigration officials to defraud victims across America.

Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, who most recently resided in Texas pleaded guilty before US District Court Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. His sentencing is set for July 2017.

He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering for his role in liquidating and laundering victim payments generated through various telephone fraud and money laundering schemes via India-based call centres.

Till date, Chaudhari, over 50 other individuals and five India-based call centres have been charged for their roles in the fraud and money laundering scheme in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury last year in October.

According to admissions made in connection with the plea, Chaudhari and his co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme.

Individuals from call centres located in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad impersonated officials from the Internal Revenue Service or US Citizenship and Immigration Services. They then defrauded victims located throughout the United States, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, the call centre operators targeted US 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, and upon payment, the call centres would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the US to liquidate and launder the fraudulently-obtained funds.

According to his plea, since about April 2014, Chaudhari worked as a member of a crew of runners operating in Illinois, Georgia, Nevada, Texas and elsewhere throughout the country.

At the direction of both US and India-based co-conspirators, often via electronic text communications, Chaudhari admitted to driving around the country with other runners to purchase re-loadable cards identifying information of US citizens.

Once victim scam proceeds were loaded onto those cards, Chaudhari admitted that he liquidated the proceeds on the cards and transferred the funds into money orders for deposit into various bank accounts while keeping a percentage of the victim funds for himself.

Chaudhari also admitted to shipping money orders purchased with victim funds to other US based co-conspirators, receiving fake identification documents from an India-based co-conspirator and using those documents to receive victim scam payments via wire transfers.

He is the second Indian national to have pleaded guilty in the call centre scam. Bharat Kumar Patel, 43, previously pleaded guilty for his role in the fraud and money laundering scheme.