Couple arrested for laundering over $400,000 on behalf of India-based phone scammers

Date: 
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Office Affiliation: 

From the U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Georgia:

ATLANTA – Federal agents have arrested husband and wife Mehulkumar Manubhai Patel and Chitali Dave for laundering over $400,000 on behalf of India-based phone scammers. 

“Criminal India-based call centers sought to prey on vulnerable members of our community and steal from them by misleading them over the phone,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.  “Those, like Patel and Dave, who allegedly launder money in the United States on behalf of foreign-based fraudsters, are the linchpins of those schemes.”

“I commend the Department of Justice and Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General for their aggressive work to fight fraudsters who target Americans through various phone scams,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “People who receive suspicious calls should just hang up, and never give out their personal information. They should go online to oig.ssa.gov to report these Social Security scams.”

“This arraignment is a bold statement that we will aggressively pursue overseas phone scammers—and their facilitators in this country—who are stealing Americans’ hard-earned money,” said Inspector General Ennis. “I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Georgia for bringing these charges, and our law enforcement partners for their efforts in investigating these scams and bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges, and other information presented in court: Criminal India-based call centers defraud U.S. residents, including the elderly, by misleading victims over the telephone utilizing scams such as Social Security and tech support scams.

As part of their Social Security scam, India-based callers pose as federal agents in order to mislead victims into believing their Social Security numbers were involved in crimes.  Callers threatened arrest and the loss of the victims’ assets if the victims did not send money.  The callers directed victims to mail cash to aliases used by other members of the fraud network, including Patel and Dave.

As part of the tech support scam, callers allegedly induced victims to send money in exchange for supposed technical support for their computers.  The callers then provided nothing in return.  At times, callers misled the victims into providing remote access to their computers and the callers would access the victims’ bank accounts.  The callers routinely misled the victims by making it appear as though the caller added money to the victims’ bank accounts.  The callers then instructed the victims to mail cash to aliases used by other members of the fraud network, including Patel and Dave.

Based on misrepresentations made during the calls, the victims, including a number of Georgia residents, mailed money to a network of individuals that allegedly laundered funds on behalf of the overseas fraud network.  From on or about May 2019, to on or about January 2020, Patel and Dave allegedly laundered over $400,000 sent by at least twenty-four victims of the scams.

On June 9, 2020, Mehulkumar Manubhai Patel, 36, and Chitali Dave, 36, both of Lexington, South Carolina, were charged by a federal grand jury with money laundering conspiracy and money laundering.  Patel was arraigned on June 19, 2020 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher C. Bly.  Defendant Dave was arraigned on July 14, 2020 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda T. Walker. 

Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges.  The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Separately, on July 9, 2020, the U.S. District Court Judge William M. Ray, II sentenced defendant Joish Patel to over two years in prison by for his role in a criminal India-based phone scam.  In 2017, Patel picked up over $140,000 dollars in victim funds using fake IDs. Some victims in that case sent money to aliases used by Joish Patel in response to an IRS scam where callers claimed they owed taxes or would be arrested.  Other victims were tricked into believing that they needed to send money in order to qualify for loans.

The Social Security Administration - Office of the Inspector General is investigating the Mehulkumar Manubhai Patel and Chitali Dave case, with the assistance of the U.S. Secret Service, Aiken Department of Public Safety (South Carolina), Naperville Police Department (Illinois), Lexington County Sheriff’s Department (South Carolina), Rocky River Police Department (Ohio), and Henrico County Police Division (Virginia).  The U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) investigated the Joish Patel case.

Northern District of Georgia Elder Justice Coordinator and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jolee Porter and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Schulman are prosecuting the case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is part of the Department of Justice Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force. The Strike Force focuses on investigating and prosecuting defendants associated with foreign-based fraud schemes that disproportionately affect American seniors.  These include romance scams, phone scams, mass-mailing fraud schemes, and tech-support fraud schemes.  For further information on these scams, see https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/senior-scam-alert.

The public should exercise caution with any caller who claims to be a government employee. Government agencies will never threaten you with immediate arrest or other legal action if you do not send cash, retail gift cards, wire transfers, or internet currency. They will also never demand secrecy from you in resolving a debt or any other problem. If you need to send a payment to Social Security, SSA will send a letter with payment options and appeal rights. If you suspect you have received a Social Security scam call, report it at https://oig.ssa.gov.

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016.  The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.