Crystal Lake Man Pleads Guilty In Secret Shopper Scheme
ROCKFORD — A Crystal Lake, Ill. man pleaded guilty today in federal court before U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Kapala to mail fraud. MICHAEL S. MACKAY, 47, of Crystal Lake, Ill., admitted that from Sept. 2011 to at least May 16, 2012, he participated in a scheme to defraud victims into falsely believing they were hired to work as “secret shoppers” or payment processors.
According to the written plea agreement, after applying to work-at-home advertisements on the Internet, victims would receive a letter with at least one counterfeit negotiable instrument, such as a counterfeit money order. The victims were instructed to deposit the counterfeit negotiable instrument in their financial institution, retain a certain percentage as payment for their services, go to the nearest Western Union and wire transfer the remaining proceeds as instructed. The victims were also instructed to report their experience, believing they were hired as secret shoppers to evaluate local businesses, via email to an email address contained in the letter. The participants in the scheme received the proceeds via the wire transfers before the victims learned that the money orders were counterfeit.
Mackay admitted that during the course of the scheme he received at least $2.5 million in counterfeit negotiable instruments in packages sent to Crystal Lake from New York, Nigeria, and Ghana, and other locations. Each package contained counterfeit money orders and other negotiable instruments in amounts ranging from $500 to $2,000 each of which appeared to be issued by either the United States Postal Service, American Express, Capital One Bank, Citizens National Bank of Texas, First National Bank, or the Navy Federal Credit Union. Mackay received emails from other scheme participants that contained instructions, a “secret shopper” letter, and United States Postal Service Express mailing labels. Mackay then placed a “secret shopper” letter in a United States Postal Service express mailing envelope along with at least two counterfeit money orders to multiple victims throughout the United States. Mackay received wire transfers of at least $10,000 from his victims and others involved in the scheme as payment for his role in the scheme before the victims learned that the negotiable instruments were counterfeit.
Sentencing for Mackay is set for Sept. 19, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. Mackay faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment, a term of supervised release of up to 3 years following imprisonment, and a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from that offense, whichever is greater. The Court may also impose a term of probation of between 1 and 5 years, and must order restitution to the victims of the offense in an amount determined by the Court. The actual sentence will be determined by the United States District Court, guided by the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Antonio Gomez, Postal Inspector-In-Charge of the Chicago Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael D. Love.