Singaporean authorities extradited an Indian national to the United States to face charges related to his role as an operator of a call centre network that targeted over 15,000 victims in the US and defrauded them of at least SGD312 million (USD230 million).
The Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force had arrested the Indian on September 21 last year when he flew from India to Singapore. He was finally extradited to the US on April 18.
“The massive India-based telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering conspiracy defrauded thousands of US residents out of hundreds of millions of dollars,” said the Justice Department of US.
Hitesh Madhubhai Patel (42) of Ahmedabad was arraigned in a Houston, Texas federal court for his role in a case that was first announced in 2016, charging 60 people with wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
The indictment alleged that Patel operated the HGlobal call centre conglomerate and participated in a complex fraudulent scheme involving a network of call centres 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 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 centres 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.
“Patel is alleged to have carried out a vast, sophisticated, and highly successful India-based telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering scheme from January 2012 to October 2016. Through this scheme, over 15,000 victims in the US were defrauded of at least US$230 million. 24 of Patel’s co-conspirators have already been sentenced in the US to imprisonment terms of up to 20 years, in what has been described as the first-ever large scale, multijurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call centre scam industry,” said Singapore Police Force and Attorney-General’s Chamber in a joint press release.
“In consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers and pursuant to a Warrant of Apprehension issued by the State Courts of Singapore, officers from the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force had arrested Patel on 21 September 2018. The State Courts held that Patel was liable to be extradited to the US to stand trial for general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy,” it added.
Singaporean Minister for Law also issued a warrant on March 25, 2019, for Patel to be delivered into the custody of the United States.
Revealing the modus operandi of the call centre conspirators, the indictment alleged that they also defrauded victims through other schemes, including via offering fake short-term loans or grants. 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.
Brian Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General of Justice Department’s Criminal Division said, “Hitesh 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.”
“I especially would like to thank our Singaporean colleagues for their excellent cooperation with this extradition and their commitment to combatting transnational organized crime,” he added.
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.