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

Woman Pleads Guilty To Theft Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SAN JUAN, P.R. – Zoraida Velázquez-Bracero plead guilty to an information charging her with theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General was in charge of the investigation.

From June 2005 until July, 2015, Velázquez-Bracero was the Purchasing Director at Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, an entity that receives in excess of $10,000.00 in federal funding in a one year period. In this position, Defendant was issued a University corporate credit card for purchasing goods and supplies for the University as well as arranging official travel for University professors. However, in 2008 Defendant started using this corporate credit card for personal expenses not authorized by the University.

Through direct charges and cash advances, Velázquez-Bracero used this corporate credit card to pay for school tuition, household utility bills and other items, and vacations to Disney World, New York City, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Canada, and France. Defendant concealed the use of this corporate credit card by altering and/or creating fictitious credit card statements wherein she hid the charges by increasing the amounts of other legitimate charges to the card, or by deleting the charges altogether before submitting the statement to the finance department for payment.

Although the original limit on this corporate credit card was $80,000.00, Velázquez-Bracero obtained numerous credit limit increases by forging her supervisor’s signature on letters to the credit card company requesting said increases. Defendant knew that she was affecting federal grants when she illegally used this corporate credit card. The total amount of unauthorized charges by Velázquez-Bracero was $655,432.00.

“The defendant misappropriated funds intended to aid University students, for her illegal personal gain,” said US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “At the U.S. Attorney’s Office we will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute financial crimes. This arrest should discourage those who get involved in these types of schemes before it’s too late, because we will continue investigating and prosecuting these offenses.”

“Federal education funds exist to provide students with educational opportunities and help students make their dreams of higher education a reality, it’s not a personal slush fund,” said Yessyka Santana, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Southeast Regional Office. “I’m proud of the work of OIG special agents, our law enforcement partners, and the PCUPR staff for holding Ms. Velázquez accountable for her alleged criminal actions.”

As a result of the guilty plea, the defendant may be sentenced to a term of eight to fourteen months in prison, a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00), and/or a term of supervised release of not more than three (3) years. Assistant United States Attorney Scott H. Anderson is in charge of the prosecution of the case.

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Short Hills, New Jersey, Investment Manager Sentenced To 33 Months In Prison For $675,000 Ponzi Scheme

Thursday, July 27, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. – An investment manager with an office in Short Hills, New Jersey, was sentenced today to 33 months in prison for that he fraudulently inducing investments, concealing investment losses, and diverting more than $675,000 in investor money for his own use, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.

Mark Moskowitz, 48, of Short Hills, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden to an information charging him with one count of wire fraud. Judge Hayden imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

In a separate legal proceeding, the N.J. Bureau of Securities ordered Moskowitz and his trading company, Edge Trading LLC, to pay a $1 million civil penalty for selling unregistered fraudulent securities and misusing investors’ funds for personal expenses.

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

Moskowitz controlled an investment fund under the names Edge Trading Partners L.P. and Edge Trading LLC (Edge Trading). In addition to touting his investment skill and experience, Moskowitz concealed losses from investors and falsely told them that Edge Trading was growing year after year. Based on these misrepresentations, investors continued to entrust additional funds to Moskowitz and left previous investments under his control.

Edge Trading was an investment fund that Moskowitz created and operated, starting in or around 2012. Moskowitz told investors that Edge Trading was invested in U.S. and foreign equities, futures contracts, and option contracts and that the fund’s investments continued to show positive returns. In reality, Moskowitz redirected investor money to his personal use, which he concealed from the investors.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Hayden sentenced Moskowitz to three years of supervised release and ordered restitution and forfeiture of $694,577.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing. He also thanked the N.J. Bureau of Securities in the State Attorney General’s Office, under the direction of Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and Acting Bureau Chief Amy Kopleton, for its assistance in the investigation.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason S. Gould of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.

Defense counsel: David Holman Esq., Assistant Federal Public Defenders, Newark

District of Columbia Woman Sentenced to 63 Months in Prison For Her Role in Scheme That Used Stolen Identities To Fraudulently Seek Tax Refunds

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wide-Ranging Operation Filed Over 12,000 Fraudulent Tax Returns Seeking More Than $42 Million

WASHINGTON – A District of Columbia woman was sentenced today to 63 months in prison for her involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in income tax refunds, announced U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips; Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division; Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Lappin of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington D.C. Field Office; Inspector in Charge Robert B. Wemyss of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Washington Division, and Assistant Inspector General for Investigations John L. Phillips of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Tarkara Cooper, 34, was convicted by a jury on Feb. 17, 2017, for conspiring to commit theft of government funds and defraud the United States and theft of public money. Two of her co-defendants, Tony Bryant, 55, and his son, Brian Bryant, 29, both of Clinton, Md., were also convicted at trial and are awaiting sentencing.

Cooper was part of a massive sophisticated stolen identity refund fraud scheme that involved a network of more than 130 people, many of whom were receiving public assistance. Conspirators fraudulently claimed refunds for tax years 2005 through 2012, often in the names of people whose identities had been stolen, including the elderly, people in assisted living facilities, drug addicts and incarcerated prisoners. Returns were also filed in the names of, and refunds were issued to, willing participants in the scheme. The returns filed listed more than 400 “taxpayer” addresses located in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. According to court documents, the overall case involved the filing of at least 12,000 fraudulent federal income tax returns that sought at least $42 million in refunds.

Conspirators played various roles in the scheme: stealing identifying information; allowing their personal identifying information to be used; creating and mailing fraudulent federal tax returns; allowing their addresses to be used for receipt of the refund checks; cashing the refund checks; providing bank accounts into which the refund checks were deposited and forging endorsements of identity theft victims on the refund checks. The false returns typically reported inflated or fictitious income from a sole proprietorship and claimed phony dependents to generate an Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal income tax credit for working families with low to moderate incomes. To date, approximately two dozen participants in this scheme have pleaded guilty.

According to the evidence presented at trial, from approximately April 2010 through June 2012, Cooper and the Bryants participated in claiming $4,959,310 in fraudulent refunds, of which the IRS paid out approximately $2,285,717. Cooper agreed to allow her residence to be used for the delivery of tax refund checks, and was paid by a co-conspirator when she provided the tax refund checks to him. The Bryants deposited refund checks fraudulently obtained by others into accounts that they controlled.

In addition to the term of prison imposed, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ordered Cooper to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $1,926,958 in restitution to the IRS. She also ordered a forfeiture money judgment of $16,750.

U.S. Attorney Phillips, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg, Special Agent in Charge Lappin, Inspector in Charge Wemyss, and Assistant Inspector General Phillips commended the special agents who conducted the investigation and acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia, including former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein; Assistant U.S. Attorney Chrisellen Kolb; Paralegal Specialists Jessica Mundi, Aisha Keys, and Donna Galindo; former Paralegal Specialist Julie Dailey; Litigation Technology Specialist Ron Royal; Investigative Analysts William Hamann and Zachary McMenamin, and Victim/Witness Advocate Tonya Jones. They also expressed appreciation for the work of Trial Attorneys Jeffrey B. Bender, Thomas F. Koelbl, and Jessica Moran of the Tax Division, who worked on the case.

Finally, they commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ellen Chubin Epstein and Michelle Bradford of the District of Columbia’s Fraud and Public Corruption Section and Trial Attorney Kimberly G. Ang of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Lucas, who assisted with forfeiture issues.

Additional information about the Tax Division’s enforcement efforts can be found on the division’s website.

FinCEN Fines BTC-e Virtual Currency Exchange $110 Million for Facilitating Ransomware, Dark Net Drug Sales

July 26, 2017

Treasury’s First Action Against a Foreign-Located Money Services Business

WASHINGTON—The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), working in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, assessed a $110,003,314 civil money penalty today against BTC-e a/k/a Canton Business Corporation (BTC-e) for willfully violating U.S. anti-money laundering (AML) laws. Russian national Alexander Vinnik, one of the operators of BTC-e, was arrested in Greece this week, and FinCEN assessed a $12 million penalty against him for his role in the violations.

BTC-e is an internet-based, foreign-located money transmitter that exchanges fiat currency as well as the convertible virtual currencies Bitcoin, Litecoin, Namecoin, Novacoin, Peercoin, Ethereum, and Dash. It is one of the largest virtual currency exchanges by volume in the world. BTC-e facilitated transactions involving ransomware, computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking.

“We will hold accountable foreign-located money transmitters, including virtual currency exchangers, that do business in the United States when they willfully violate U.S. anti-money laundering laws,” said Jamal El-Hindi, Acting Director for FinCEN. “This action should be a strong deterrent to anyone who thinks that they can facilitate ransomware, dark net drug sales, or conduct other illicit activity using encrypted virtual currency. Treasury’s FinCEN team and our law enforcement partners will work with foreign counterparts across the globe to appropriately oversee virtual currency exchangers and administrators who attempt to subvert U.S. law and avoid complying with U.S. AML safeguards.”

FinCEN acted in coordination with law enforcement’s seizure of BTC-e and Vinnik’s arrest. The Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Secret Service, and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the criminal investigation.

Among other violations, BTC-e failed to obtain required information from customers beyond a username, a password, and an e-mail address. Instead of acting to prevent money laundering, BTC-e and its operators embraced the pervasive criminal activity conducted at the exchange. Users openly and explicitly discussed criminal activity on BTC-e’s user chat. BTC-e’s customer service representatives offered advice on how to process and access money obtained from illegal drug sales on dark net markets like Silk Road, Hansa Market, and AlphaBay.

BTC-e also processed transactions involving funds stolen between 2011 and 2014 from one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchanges, Mt. Gox. BTC-e processed over 300,000 bitcoin in transactions traceable to the theft. FinCEN has also identified at least $3 million of facilitated transactions tied to ransomware attacks such as “Cryptolocker” and “Locky.” Further, BTC-e shared customers and conducted transactions with the now-defunct money laundering website Liberty Reserve. FinCEN previously issued a finding under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act that identified Liberty Reserve as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern.

BTC-e has conducted over $296 million in transactions of bitcoin alone and tens of thousands of transactions in other convertible virtual currencies. The transactions included funds sent from customers located within the United States to recipients who were also located within the United States. BTC-e also concealed its geographic location and its ownership. Regardless of its ownership or location, the company was required to comply with U.S. AML laws and regulations as a foreign-located MSB including AML program, MSB registration, suspicious activity reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. This is the second supervisory enforcement action FinCEN has taken against a business that operates as an exchanger of virtual currency, and the first it has taken against a foreign-located MSB doing business in the United States.

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FinCEN’s mission is to safeguard the financial system from illicit use and combat money laundering and promote national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence and strategic use of financial authorities.

CONTACT: Steve Hudak 703-905-3770

Assessment:

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New Jersey Man Sentenced To 39 Months In Prison For Defrauding Investors

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. – A North Caldwell, New Jersey, man was sentenced today to 39 months in prison for fraudulently using more than $550,000 in investment funds that he solicited to purchase and sell consumer products in bulk, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.

Michael Esposito, 45, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini to an information charging him with one count of wire fraud. Judge Martini imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

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

From August 2013 through February 2017, Esposito was the president of numerous entities that purported to purchase consumer products in bulk from manufacturers for resale to wholesalers and retailers. Esposito told potential investors that he could purchase consumer goods – such as soda and bottled water – at substantial discounts, and that he had buyers ready to purchase the products at a significant profit.

In return for providing the funds necessary to purchase the products, Esposito promised the victim investors a large percentage of the profits. However, Esposito used the funds for his personal expenses and to pay other investors in order to make it appear the money was properly used. Esposito admitted that his actions resulted in losses of more than $550,000.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Martini sentenced Esposito to three years of supervised release. Restitution will be determined at a late date.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents with the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark, with the investigation. He also thanked investigators with the Florida Office of Financial Regulation for their assistance.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Kogan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit and Sarah Devlin of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in Newark.

Defense counsel: Brooke M. Barnett Esq., Newark

South Florida Man Charged With Credit Card Fraud And Identity Theft Involving Personal Information From Veterans

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jacksonville, Florida – Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announces the return of an indictment charging Dwayne Thomas (21, Miami) with one count of credit card fraud and nine counts of identity theft. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in federal prison for the credit card fraud count and up to 5 years’ imprisonment on each of the identity theft counts.

According to the indictment and information presented in court, Thomas was in possession of multiple credit card account numbers from Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and USAA. He also possessed the Social Security numbers of multiple former members of the military who were receiving healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Secret Service -Jacksonville Field Office, and the Florida Highway Patrol. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kevin C. Frein.