Queens Check Cashing Company And Its Owner Plead Guilty In $19 Million Scheme
BROOKLYN, NY – Earlier today, Belair Payroll Services, Inc. (“Belair”), a now defunct, multi-branch check cashing company based in Flushing, New York, and its owner, Craig Panzera, 47, pled guilty to failing to follow reporting and anti-money laundering requirements for over $19 million in transactions, in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Panzera also pled guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by willfully failing to pay income and payroll taxes. As part of the guilty plea, Belair will forfeit $3,267,252.10, and Panzera will pay restitution in the amount of $946,841.17 to the IRS.
The guilty pleas were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director John Sandweg; and Chief of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Richard Weber. The pleas were accepted by United States District Judge Frederic Block.
“As today’s guilty pleas make clear, Panzera used the hard working residential community of Queens as a cover for his illegal schemes. Under the guise of offering much needed financial services to the community, Panzera instead operated Belair as a crooked enterprise, hiding illicit transactions, lining his own pockets and evading taxes,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to expose and eradicate money laundering and tax fraud from our communities.” Ms. Lynch thanked the Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Fraud Section, ICE and IRS-CI for their work on the investigation.
According to court filings, from June 2009 through June 2011, numerous checks drawn on bank accounts of shell corporations were presented to Belair employees to be cashed at Belair. The checks appeared to be related to health care services, but in fact, the corporations did no legitimate business. The shell corporations and the corresponding bank accounts on which the checks were written were established in the names of foreign nationals, many of whom were located overseas. Belair accepted the checks and, in return, provided cash in excess of $10,000 per check. Panzera and others at Belair intentionally failed to require or obtain identification documents or information from the individuals presenting the checks. Belair filed CTRs falsely stating that the checks were cashed by the foreign nationals who set up the shell corporations, and with respect to certain CTRs, failed to indicate the full amount of cash provided to the individuals. More than $19 million in checks were cashed through Belair during the course of the scheme. By systematically cashing checks in this manner, Panzera and Belair willfully failed to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. Prior to the indictment, Belair had operated five check cashing stores in Queens.
The charges in the indictment against Panzera and Belair’s co-defendants remain pending and are merely accusations. Those defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Patricia E. Notopoulos and Trial Attorneys Claiborne W. Porter, Kevin G. Mosley and Darrin McCullough of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS).
BELAIR PAYROLL SERVICES, INC.
Flushing, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 11-CR-591 (S-1)