An Indian has been extradited to the US from Singapore to face charges of his involvement in a multi-million dollar India-based call centre scam that targeted Americans.
Hitesh Madhubhai Patel, 42, of Ahmedabad is scheduled to be arraigned on Friday before a US magistrate judge in federal court in Houston.
The indictment, which was unsealed in October 2016, charged Patel and 60 other individuals and entities with general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
The US Justice Department said the massive India-based telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering conspiracy defrauded thousands of US residents out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said Patel operated a call centre that allegedly preyed upon vulnerable US citizens as part of a massive fraud scheme.
“This extradition once again demonstrates the Department’s unwavering commitment to disrupt and dismantle the India-based call centre scam industry and to work with our foreign partners to hold accountable those who perpetrate schemes that defraud our citizens,” he said.
US Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas said large complex international cases like these often take years to bring in foreign-based defendants, applauding America’s global partners in helping bring this case closer to a conclusion”.
The Justice Department said that Singapore authorities apprehended Patel at the request of the US following a provisional arrest warrant in September last year, after he flew from India to Singapore.
The Singaporean Minister for Law issued a warrant on March 25, 2019 for Patel to be delivered into custody of the United States.
The indictment alleges that Patel operated the HGlobal call center conglomerate and participated in a complex fraudulent scheme involving a network of call centers based in Ahmedabad.
Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, India-based conspirators allegedly called potential victims while impersonating officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
According to the indictment, the call centre conspirators then threatened victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government.
When victims agreed to pay, the call centers used a network of US-based conspirators to quickly liquidate and launder the extorted funds through the use of stored value cards or via wire transfers.
As alleged in the indictment, the stored value cards were often registered by the scammers using misappropriated personal identifying information of thousands of identity theft victims, and conspirators collected the wire transfers by using fake names and fraudulent identifications.
The call centre conspirators also defrauded victims through other schemes, including via offering fake short-term loans or grants.
The indictment alleges that the conspirators would then request a good-faith deposit to show the victims’ ability to pay back the loan or a fee to process the grant. The victims of the alleged scam never received any money after making the requested payment.
A total of 24 domestic defendants associated with this transnational criminal scheme have previously been convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment of up to 20 years in the Southern District of Texas, District of Arizona and Northern District of Georgia.
The defendants were also ordered to pay millions of dollars in victim restitution and money judgments and to forfeit seized assets.
Some defendants were ordered to be deported based on their illegal immigration status, with another defendant having his US citizenship revoked due to a separate conviction for immigration fraud. The remaining India-based defendants have yet to be arraigned in this case.
Executive Associate Director Derek Benner of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said Patel’s extradition should serve as a strong deterrent to anyone considering taking part in similar scams and hoped it provides a sense of justice for the victims as well.
Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) Russell George said since 2013, the IRS impersonation scam has been on a relentless path, claiming more than 15,000 victims who have collectively suffered over USD 75 million in losses.
“TIGTA’s investigations, often conducted with other Federal agencies, have identified 140 scammers, including Patel, who have preyed upon taxpayers.
“Today’s extradition and arraignment are proof that TIGTA and its law enforcement partners will be equally relentless in rooting out individuals who fraudulently identify themselves as IRS employees in order to extort money from taxpayers,” George said.
Special Agent in Charge David Green of DHS-OIG Houston, Texas Field Office said the owners, managers and employees of overseas call centers who target US residents should know that the US pursuit of justice for victims of their scams does not stop at the water’s edge.
“We will continue to work with our international partners to identify these fraudsters, track them down and hold them accountable for their crimes,” Green said.