Hudson County, New Jersey, Man Sentenced To 63 Months In Prison For Masterminding Fake ID Website And Participating In ‘SIRF’ Scheme

Thursday, July 27, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. – A Jersey City, New Jersey, man was sentenced today to 63 months in prison for his role in two separate conspiracies: one to create and operate a website that sold high-quality, custom-made fake identification documents, some of which were later used to commit financial crimes, and a second to fraudulently obtain tax refund checks, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.

Ricardo Rosario, 34, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in Newark federal court to an information charging him with conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with authentication features and conspiracy to submit false claims to the U.S. Government. Judge Linares imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From October 2012 through August 2014, Rosario, with the assistance of Abraham Corcino, 34, of Jersey City, and Alexis Scott Carthens, 38, of Newark, sold fake driver’s licenses over the Internet, running a website that was available at “fakeidstore.com” and “fakedlstore.com.” A number of the fake driver’s licenses sold by Rosario and other conspirators were used in connection with “cash out” schemes, where stolen credit card information, usually obtained through hacking or ATM skimming operations, was encoded on to counterfeit credit cards and used to steal cash from victims’ accounts.

Rosario created and ran the website. Corcino and Carthens assisted him by creating and mailing the fake driver’s licenses purchased through the website. Corcino also maintained an Instagram account to promote the website. The website sold fake New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin driver’s licenses, and the website boasted that the licenses had “scannable barcodes” and “real” holographic overlays. The price for each fake driver’s license was approximately $150, but the website offered bulk pricing for orders of 10 or more.

The website allowed its users to pay by bitcoin, a cryptographic-based digital currency, or MoneyPak, a type of prepaid payment card that could be purchased at retail stores. The “FAQ” section of the website indicated that orders would be received approximately one to two days after payment was received and described the website’s policy with respect to returns: “No Refunds. No snitching.”

In the Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) conspiracy, Rosario assisted Carthens, who obtained stolen personally identifiable information (PII) primarily in the form of lab testing request forms that he purchased from another individual. Rosario provided Carthens with email accounts and drop addresses used in furtherance of the scheme. The email accounts were used to register accounts for online tax filing services and prepaid card accounts used to apply for and receive the tax refunds. The drop addresses were used to physically receive the refunds in the form of prepaid debit cards.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Linares sentenced Rosario to three years of supervised release and ordered forfeiture of $232,660 and restitution of $121,922.

Corcino was sentenced on April 17, 2017, to three years of probation. Carthens pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme on April 25, 2016, and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 28, 2017.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark, inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge James V. Buthorn, and special agents of IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Intrater of the Economic Crimes Unit and Barbara Ward, Acting Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit in Newark.

Defense counsel: Brian Neary Esq., Hackensack, New Jersey

Indiana Livestock Broker Charged with Fraud, Money Laundering

Thursday, July 13, 2017

CINCINNATI– A federal grand jury has charged Brian D. Jones, 38, of Vevay, Indiana with defrauding investors in his livestock brokerage business.

Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio and Angela L. Byers, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Field Office, announced the indictment which was unsealed today.

The indictment alleges that Jones operated a business buying bull calves from dairy farms in Wisconsin and selling them to cattle ranches in Texas and Missouri. He began soliciting investors in 2015, promising sizable returns for the investments.

Rather than invest the funds, the indictment alleges, Jones used the funds for his personal benefit such as gambling at casinos. The indictment also alleges that Jones used the investment funds to pay “returns” back to earlier investors as if the funds had actually generated income through investment in his business. By the end of 2015, the indictment says, Jones had squandered funds from the cattle purchasers and was in debt with his suppliers and purchasers. Investigators are still calculating the number of investors and the amount of money involved in the alleged fraud.

“The indictment alleges that Jones fabricated bank documents to show that he had sizable business deposits that would soon be ‘released’ by the bank,” U.S. Attorney Glassman said. “He also allegedly sent checks to investors including some in the Southern District of Ohio for investment returns, only to have the checks bounce due to insufficient funds in his account.”

Jones faces four counts of wire fraud, each punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he’s convicted. The indictment also charges him with four counts of money laundering. Three are punishable by up to ten years in prison. One money laundering charges carries a potential sentence of 20 years in prison. Two additional counts seek forfeiture of all property and proceeds of any crimes of which Jones is convicted.

FBI agents arrested Jones in southern Indiana today. Jones appeared U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman for an initial appearance and to schedule further court dates.

U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the FBI, as well as Assistant United States Attorney Timothy S. Mangan, who is prosecuting the case.

An indictment merely contains allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

Defunct Philly Hospice’s Owners/Operators to Pay Millions to Settle Civil False Claims Suit

Thursday, July 6, 2017

PHILADELPHIA – Acting United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen announced today that Matthew Kolodesh, Alex Pugman, Svetlana Ganetsky, and Malvina Yakobashvili have agreed to pay millions of dollars to settle False Claims Act allegations that they and their now-defunct company, Home Care Hospice, Inc. (HCH), falsely claimed and received taxpayer dollars for hospice services that were either unnecessary or never provided. Previously, a federal jury found Kolodesh guilty on, and Pugman and Ganetsky pleaded guilty to, related criminal charges.

Kolodesh was HCH’s de facto co-owner; Pugman was HCH’s Executive Director and co-owner; Ganetsky was HCH’s Development Executive; and Yakobashvili was HCH’s CEO and President. Kolodesh and Yakobashvili are husband and wife, as are Pugman and Ganetsky.

The civil settlements with Kolodesh, Pugman, and Ganetsky specifically resolve False Claims Act allegations that HCH and they, between January 2003 and September 2008: knowingly submitted false claims and records (including fabricated records) to Medicare for purported hospice care for patients who were not terminally ill and thus not eligible for the Medicare hospice benefit; and/or knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false claims and records (including fabricated records) to Medicare for crisis care services that were not necessary or not actually provided; and, as a result of this conduct, violated the False Claims Act and cost the Medicare Program millions of dollars. The settlements with these defendants, as well as Yakobashvili, also resolve federal common law allegations that all five defendants were unjustly enriched as a result of such conduct.

As part of the settlements, the United States will retain the full value of multiple financial accounts that were restrained in a related civil injunction action filed by the United States in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The estimated current value of those interests is approximately $8.8 million. The defendants have further agreed: (1) to make cash payments to the government ($400,000 from Pugman and Ganetsky, and $425,000 from Kolodesh and Yakobashvili); and (2) to transfer to the United States various assets, including Pugman’s and Kolodesh’s interests in condominium properties that they co-own.

Under qui tam (whistleblower) provisions of the federal False Claims Act, certain private citizens may bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and may share in any recovery. This suit was originally filed on behalf of the United States by Maureen Fox and Cathy Gonzales, former HCH employees who discovered the alleged fraud. The settlements announced today include False Claims Act whistleblower awards for Ms. Gonzales and for the Estate of Ms. Fox, who passed away after filing suit.

As the result of the United States’ related criminal investigation, 22 persons employed by or associated with HCH were criminally convicted in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“The Medicare hospice benefit is intended to provide patients nearing the end of life with pain management and other palliative care to make them as comfortable as possible,” Lappen said. “Too often, however, we hear reports of companies that abuse this critical service by enrolling patients who do not qualify for the hospice benefit, do not provide claimed services, or who push patients into services they don’t need in order to get higher government reimbursements. The Department of Justice, including this office, will take swift action to protect the public welfare and taxpayer dollars and to make sure that Medicare benefits are available to those truly in need.”

“Medicare, a crucial component of our nation’s health care system, draws from a finite pool of funds,” said Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “The defendants siphoned money earmarked for dying patients’ hospice care, and built their bank accounts on taxpayers’ backs. The FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those defrauding the U.S. government.”

“Today’s settlement returns over $8 million to our nation’s Medicare program. This money was wrongfully paid as a result of fraudulent billings and part of a massive criminal conspiracy that preyed on a program that comforts beneficiaries at the end of their lives,” said Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge of the Inspector General’s Office of the United Stated Department of Health and Human Services in Philadelphia. “In addition to this civil settlement, this investigation resulted in the criminal prosecution of 22 individuals for health care fraud or other charges. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the dedicated federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to use every available tool to jail those who steal from federal health care programs and recoup cash and assets illegally acquired.”

The case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Organized Crime Section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The civil case was handled at the U.S. Attorney’s Office by Assistant United States Attorneys Eric D. Gill, Gerald B. Sullivan, and Colin C. Cherico. Assistance was provided by the HHS Office of Counsel to the Inspector General and the Commercial Litigation Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division.

The civil claims asserted against HCH, Kolodesh, Pugman, Ganetsky, and Yakobashvili are allegations only, and there has been no determination of civil liability. The civil qui tam suit is docketed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as U.S.A. et al. ex rel. Fox and Gonzales v. Home Care Hospice, Inc, et al., No. 06-cv-4679.

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania is one of 10 federal districts that formed an Elder Justice Task Force as a part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative. (The office announced its task force here in March 2016, and maintains a publicly accessible website here.) The task force seeks to enhance government protection of vulnerable, elderly Pennsylvanians from harm and to ensure the integrity of government health care spending.

Orlando Doctor and Infusion Clinic Owner Sentenced to 64 Months and 90 Months in Prison for Role in Medicare Fraud

Monday, June 26, 2017

An Orlando medical doctor and an infusion clinic owner were sentenced to 64 months in prison and two years supervised release, and 90 months and two years supervised release, respectively, today for their roles in a $13.7 million Medicare fraud conspiracy that involved submitting claims for expensive infusion-therapy drugs that were never purchased, never provided and not medically necessary.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office made the announcement.

Dr. Miguel Burgos, 60, of Gotha, Florida, and Yosbel Marimon, 40, of Winter Park, Florida, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton, Jr. of the Middle District of Florida. Judge Dalton also ordered the defendants to pay $9.8 million in restitution and to forfeit the same amount. As part of his plea, Marimon also consented to the forfeiture of real property valued at approximately $1.7 million. Burgos and Marimon each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud: Burgos on February 9, Marimon on February 16.

As part of his guilty plea, Burgos admitted that between July 2008 and September 2011, he was the medical director of four Orlando-area infusion clinics that received Medicare funds. Marimon admitted that he was one of the owners of the four clinics. Burgos and Marimon further admitted that they billed Medicare and private insurance companies for, among other things, expensive infusion therapy medications, including anticancer chemotherapeutic medications, despite never administering the drugs. Burgos and Marimon also admitted to submitted false claims to Medicare and private insurance companies for physical therapy conducted at the clinics, even though there was no licensed physical therapist on staff at the clinics, they admitted. In connection with the scheme, the defendants admitted that they billed Medicare and private insurers approximately $13.7 million, of which approximately $9.8 million was paid on the fraudulent claims.

This case was investigated by HHS-OIG. Fraud Section Trial Attorney Timothy Loper prosecuted the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Andrejko also provided assistance regarding asset forfeiture issues in this case.

The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 3,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $12 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Co-Owners of Miami Home Health Agencies Sentenced to Over 10 Years in Prison for $20 Million Fraud Scheme

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A mother and daughter who secretly co-owned and operated seven home health care agencies in the Miami, Florida area were each sentenced to over 10 years in prison today for their roles in a $20 million Medicare fraud conspiracy that involved paying illegal health care kickbacks to patient recruiters and medical professionals.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Brian Swain of the U.S. Secret Service’s Miami Regional Office and Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office made the announcement.

Mildrey Gonzalez, 61, and her daughter, Milka Alfaro, 39, both of Miami, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez of the Southern District of Florida to 135 and 151 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in the scheme. The defendants were further ordered to pay approximately $22,900,000 in joint and several restitution. Gonzalez and Alfaro each pleaded guilty on March 2, having been charged in a July 2016 superseding indictment. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of health care fraud, while Alfaro pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud.

Alfaro and Gonzalez previously admitted that they secretly co-owned and operated seven home health agencies in the Miami area, yet failed to disclose their ownership interests in any of these agencies to Medicare, as required by relevant rules and regulations. In addition, Alfaro and Gonzalez admitted to paying illegal health care kickbacks to a network of patient recruiters in order to bring Medicare beneficiaries into the scheme, to paying bribes and kickbacks to medical professionals in return for providing home health referrals, and to directing co-conspirators to open shell corporations, into which millions of dollars’ worth of fraud proceeds were funneled. Furthermore, Alfaro and Gonzalez each admitted to perjuring themselves at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman of the Southern District of Florida, to attempting to influence the testimony of potential trial witnesses, and to submitting false affidavits concerning their assets to the court.

This case was investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and HHS-OIG. Former Fraud Section Trial Attorney and current Southern District of Florida Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa H. Miller and Fraud Section Trial Attorney L. Rush Atkinson prosecuted the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Evelyn B. Sheehan and Alison W. Lehr also provided assistance regarding asset forfeiture issues in this case.

The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 2,300 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $7 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

US Seeks Approximately $540 Million From Conspiracy Involving Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund

Thursday, June 15, 2017

LOS ANGELES – The Justice Department today filed civil forfeiture complaints seeking the forfeiture and recovery of approximately $540 million in assets associated with an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

Combined with civil forfeiture complaints filed in July 2016 that seek more than $1 billion, and civil forfeiture complaints filed last week that seek approximately $100 million in assets, this case represents the largest action brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Assets now subject to forfeiture in this case total almost $1.7 billion.

The complaints filed today seek the forfeiture of Red Granite Pictures’ interest in the movies “Dumb and Dumber To” and “Daddy’s Home,” a condominium in New York City worth nearly $5 million, diamond jewelry, artworks by Picasso and Basquiat, and a $260 million megayacht called The Equanimity.

According to the complaints, from 2009 through 2015, more than $4.5 billion in funds belonging to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was allegedly misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates. 1MDB was created by the government of Malaysia to promote economic development in Malaysia through global partnerships and foreign direct investment, and its funds were intended to be used for improving the well-being of the Malaysian people.

“These cases involve billions of dollars that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, but instead was used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “The misappropriation of 1MDB funds was accomplished with an extravagant web of lies and bogus transactions that were brought to light by the dedicated attorneys and law enforcement agents who continue to work on this matter. We simply will not allow the United States to be a place where corrupt individuals can expect to hide assets and lavishly spend money that should be used for the benefit of citizens of other nations.”

“The Criminal Division is steadfast in our efforts to protect the security, safety, and integrity of the American financial system from all manner of abuse, including by kleptocrats seeking to hide their ill-gotten or stolen wealth,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco. “Today’s complaints reveal another chapter of this multi-year, multi-billion-dollar fraud scheme, bringing the total identified stolen proceeds to $4.5 billion. This money financed the lavish lifestyles of the alleged co-conspirators at the expense and detriment of the Malaysian people. We are unwavering in our commitment to ensure the United States is not a safe haven for corrupt individuals and kleptocrats to hide their ill-gotten wealth or money, and that recovered assets be returned to the victims from which they were taken.”

As alleged in the complaints, the members of the conspiracy – which included officials at 1MDB, their relatives and other associates – diverted more than $4.5 billion in 1MDB funds. Using fraudulent documents and representations, the co-conspirators allegedly laundered the funds through a series of complex transactions and shell companies with bank accounts located in the United States and abroad. These transactions allegedly served to conceal the origin, source and ownership of the funds, and ultimately passed through U.S. financial institutions to then be used to acquire and invest in assets located in the United States and overseas.

The complaints filed today allege that in 2014, the co-conspirators misappropriated approximately $850 million in 1MDB funds under the guise of repurchasing certain options that had been given in connection with a guarantee of 2012 bonds. As the complaints allege, 1MDB had borrowed a total of $1.225 billion from a syndicate of banks to fund the buy-back of the options. The complaints allege that approximately $850 million was instead diverted to several offshore shell entities. From there, the complaints allege, the funds stolen in 2014, in addition to money stolen in prior years, were used, among other things, to purchase the 300-foot luxury yacht valued at over $260 million, certain movie rights, high-end properties, tens of millions of dollars of jewelry and artwork. A portion of the diverted loan proceeds were also allegedly used in an elaborate, Ponzi-like scheme to create the false appearance that an earlier 1MDB investment had been profitable.

“Today’s filing serves as a reminder of the important role that the FBI plays in rooting out international corruption. When corrupt foreign officials launder funds through the United States in furtherance of their criminal activity, the FBI works tirelessly to help hold those officials accountable, and recover the misappropriated funds,” said Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “I applaud all my colleagues and our international partners who have worked to help recover an immense amount of funds taken from the Malaysian people, who are the victims of this abhorrent case of kleptocracy.”

“Today’s announcement is the result of untangling a global labyrinth of multi-layered financial transactions allegedly used to divert billions of dollars from the people of Malaysia and fund the co-conspirators’ lavish lifestyles,” said Deputy Chief Don Fort of IRS Criminal Investigation. “The IRS is proud to partner with other law enforcement agencies and share its world-renowned financial investigative expertise in this complex financial investigation. It’s important for the world to see, that when people use the American financial system for corruption, the IRS will take notice.”

As alleged in the earlier complaints, in 2009, 1MDB officials and their associates embezzled approximately $1 billion that was supposed to be invested to exploit energy concessions purportedly owned by a foreign partner. Instead, the funds allegedly were transferred through shell companies and were used to acquire a number of assets. The complaints also allege that the co-conspirators misappropriated close to $1.4 billion in funds raised through the bond offerings in 2012, and more than $1.2 billion following another bond offering in 2013.

The FBI’s International Corruption Squads in New York City and Los Angeles, and IRS Criminal Investigation are investigating the case.

Assistant United States Attorneys John Kucera and Christen Sproule of the Asset Forfeiture Section, along with Deputy Chief Woo S. Lee and Trial Attorneys Kyle R. Freeny and Jonathan Baum of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, are prosecuting the case. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs is providing substantial assistance.

The Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative is led by a team of dedicated prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies and U.S. Attorney’s Offices, to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, to use those recovered asset to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office. In 2015, the FBI formed International Corruption Squads across the country to address national and international implications of foreign corruption. Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption located in or laundered through the United States should contact federal law enforcement or send an email to kleptocracy@usdoj.gov(link sends e-mail) or https://tips.fbi.gov/.

A civil forfeiture complaint is merely an allegation that money or property was involved in or represents the proceeds of a crime. These allegations are not proven until a court awards judgment in favor of the United States.

US Files Forfeiture Complaint Against Chinese Company for Laundering Money for North Korea

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Company Allegedly Violated Sanctions by Laundering U.S. Dollar Transactions on Behalf of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank
WASHINGTON – The United States has filed a complaint to civilly forfeit $1,902,976 from Mingzheng International Trading Limited (Mingzheng), a company based in Shenyang, China. The complaint alleges that Mingzheng is a front company that was created to launder United States dollars on behalf of sanctioned North Korean entities.
According to the complaint, Mingzheng conspired to evade U.S. economic sanctions by facilitating prohibited U.S. dollar transactions through the United States on behalf of the Foreign Trade Bank, a sanctioned entity in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and to launder the proceeds of that conduct through U.S. financial institutions.

The forfeiture action was announced today by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Michael DeLeon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office.

The action represents one of the largest seizures of North Korean funds by the Department of Justice.

“This complaint alleges that parties in China established and used a front company to surreptitiously move North Korean money through the United States and violated the sanctions imposed by our government on North Korea,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “Sanctions laws are critical to our national security and foreign policy interests, and this case demonstrates that we will seek significant remedies for those companies that violate them.”

“The FBI has dedicated substantial resources to investigate complex illegal monetary transactions involving foreign adversaries. This specific case has significant national security implications,” said Special Agent in Charge DeLeon. “The men and women of the FBI’s Phoenix Field Division worked diligently to identify the illegal transactions. We hope this sends a strong message to those who utilize US banking systems for illegal activities.”

The complaint was filed on June 14, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to the complaint, Mingzheng is owned by a Chinese national and is based in Shenyang, China. Mingzheng allegedly operated as a front company for a foreign-based branch of the North Korea-based Foreign Trade Bank (FTB). In March 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Foreign Trade Bank as a sanctioned entity pursuant to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations. The designation noted that the Foreign Trade Bank is a state-owned bank, and “acts as North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank.” The designation further noted that North Korea uses the Foreign Trade Bank to facilitate millions of dollars in transactions on behalf of actors linked to its proliferation network.

The United Nations Panel of Experts reported in 2017 as to how North Korean banks have been able to evade sanctions and continue to access the international banking system. Specifically, despite strengthened financial sanctions, North Korean networks are adapting by using greater ingenuity in accessing formal banking channels. This includes maintaining correspondent bank accounts and representative offices abroad, which are staffed by foreign nationals making use of front companies. These broad interwoven networks allow the North Korean banks to conduct illicit procurement and banking activity.

An FBI investigation revealed that Mingzheng’s alleged activities mirror this money laundering paradigm. Specifically, Mingzheng acts a front company for a covert Chinese branch of the Foreign Trade Bank. This branch is operated by a Chinese national who has historically been tied to the Foreign Trade Bank.

The government is seeking to forfeit $1,902,976 that was transacted in October and November of 2015 by Mingzheng, via wire transfers, using their Chinese bank accounts. These U.S. dollar payments, which cleared through the United States, are alleged to violate U.S. law, because Mingzheng was surreptitiously making them on behalf of the Foreign Trade Bank, whose designation precluded such U.S. dollar transactions.

The claims made in the complaint are only allegations and do not constitute a determination of liability.

The FBI’s Phoenix Field Office is investigating the case. Assistant U.S Attorneys Arvind K. Lal, Zia M. Faruqui, Christopher B. Brown, Deborah Curtis and Brian P. Hudak are prosecuting the case, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Toni Anne Donato.