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Phone scama

Washington, DC – An Indian national has been extradited to the United States from Singapore to face charges related to his role as an operator of a call center network that targeted US victims. Singapore authorities apprehended Hitesh Madhubhai Patel – at the request of the United States pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant on September 21, 2018 – after flying 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.

Patel, 42, of Ahmedabad, India, arrived in the United States and is scheduled to be arraigned today before a US magistrate judge in federal court in Houston, Texas. 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 case is in the Southern District of Texas of David Hittner.

The massive India-based telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering conspiracy defrauded thousands of US residents out of millions of dollars. “Hitesh Patel operated a call center that allegedly preyed upon vulnerable US citizens as part of a massive fraud scheme,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Thanking Singaporean colleagues for their excellent cooperation with this extradition and their commitment to combating transnational organized crime, Benczkowski said, “This extradition once again demonstrates the Department’s unwavering commitment to disrupt and dismantle the India-based call center scam industry and to work with our foreign partners to hold accountable those who perpetrate schemes that defraud our citizens.”

“This historic extradition should serve as notice to transnational criminal organizations of the lengths DHS is willing to go to arrest those who would enrich themselves by extorting the most vulnerable in our society,” said Special Agent in Charge David Green of DHS-OIG Houston, Texas Field Office.

Cautioning the owners, managers and employees of overseas call centers who target US residents, Green said they should know that “our pursuit of justice for victims of their scams does not stop at the water’s edge.” Green added, “We will continue to work with our international partners to identify these fraudsters, track them down and hold them accountable for their crimes.”

Labeling the extradition as “a strong deterrent to anyone considering taking part in similar scams,” while providing “a sense of justice for the victims as well,” Executive Associate Director Derek N. Benner of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said, “HSI will continue to utilize its unique investigative mandate, in conjunction with our local, state and federal partners, to attack and dismantle the criminal enterprises who would seek to manipulate US institutions and taxpayers.”

“Since 2013, the IRS impersonation scam has been on a relentless path, claiming more than 15,000 victims who have collectively suffered over $75 million in losses,” said Inspector General J. Russell George of the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

On the TIGTA’s investigations, often conducted with other Federal agencies, which identified 140 scammers, including Patel, who have preyed upon taxpayers, George said, “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. We especially appreciate the cooperation of the Government of Singapore for its role in the extradition.”

US Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas summed up the overall work saying, “I cannot compliment enough the hard work and effort put into this case by the agents, analysts and attorneys of the many agencies involved,” adding, “Large complex international cases like these often take years to bring in foreign-based defendants. I applaud our global partners in helping bring this case closer to a conclusion.”

Details from the Indictment

According to the indictment Patel operated the HGlobal call center conglomerate and participated in a complex fraudulent scheme involving a network of call centers based in Ahmedabad, India. Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, India-based conspirators allegedly called potential victims while impersonating officials from the IRS or US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The indictment noted the call center 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.

According to the indictment, the call center 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.

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