Despite persistent messages from the Internal Revenue Service that it never cold-calls delinquent taxpayers, unwitting people have continued to be cheated by fraudsters posing as threatening government agents.
On Friday, the Justice Department announced what Attorney General Jeff Sessions called a “significant victory” in counter-fraud efforts with guilty pleas and sentences from the final players in a 24-member, multi-million-dollar conspiracy run out of India.
Twenty individuals based in the United States were given prison terms as long as 20 years by Houston-based Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. Three others were sentenced in November 2017.
“The stiff sentences imposed this week represent the culmination of the first-ever large scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry,” Sessions said.
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Twenty-two of the defendants sentenced were held liable for restitution of $8,970,396, payable to identified victims of their crimes, the department said in a release. “Additionally, the court entered individual preliminary orders of forfeiture against 21 defendants for assets that were seized in the case, and money judgments totaling over $72,942,300.”
In the scheme, call center employees in India used scripts and lists of leads to phone potential victims. They claimed to represent either the IRS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and told the victims that they owed money to the government and would be arrested or deported if they failed to pay up. Then a Chicago-based crew of “runners” liquidated and laundered the fraudulent proceeds using anonymous stored value cards and fake names.
Some of those sentenced to U.S. prisons—their hometowns as far afield as California, Florida, and New Jersey—were co-owners of a call center based in Ahmedabad, India, and some will complete additional prison time in India.
“This type of fraud is sickening,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick. “However, after years of investigation and incredible hard work by multiple agents and attorneys, these con artists are finally headed to prison. Their cruel tactics preyed on some very vulnerable people, thereby stealing millions from them.”
The investigations and prosecutions were led by Justice’s Criminal Division, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George and Special Agent in Charge David Green of the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. Also playing roles were the Federal Communications Commission, the State Department, INTERPOL and local law enforcement.
“Today’s sentences should serve as a strong deterrent to anyone considering taking part in similar scams, and I hope that they provide a sense of justice to the victims, as well,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Derek Benner. “There is no safe haven from U.S. law enforcement.”
An additional 32 India-based conspirators and five India-based call centers are expected to be arraigned.
The IGs encouraged anyone who believes they or someone they know is a victim of an IRS impersonation scam to report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at www.tigta.gov or by calling 800-366-4484. The Federal Trade Commission also works the issue using its phone scam and identity theft websites.