Fraudster Pleads Guilty to Identity Theft and Schemes to Obtain Maryland Unemployment Benefits, Defraud More than 10,000 Credit Card Holders and Direct Tv
Also Admits To Pre-Trial Release Violations
Baltimore, Maryland - Amiee Arora, age 32, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit and committing credit/debit card fraud, and aggravated identity theft in connection with a series of fraud schemes, including a scheme to use the personal identifying information of others to fraudulently obtain at least $340,000 in Maryland unemployment benefits issued in the form of prepaid debit cards.
The plea agreement was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent-in-Charge Michael Barcus, U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations; and Postal Inspector in Charge Gary R. Barksdale of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Washington Division. Mr. Rosenstein thanked the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) for their assistance in this investigation and prosecution.
According to his plea agreement, Arora was the sole director and resident agent of Top Of The Line Marketing, Inc. (TOTL Marketing) and co-defendant Vivek Jain worked for him. From February 14, 2010 through February 14, 2011, Arora and Jain used the identifying information that they obtained during the course of their employment at TOTL Marketing to fraudulently apply for Maryland unemployment benefits, often using mailing addresses from real estate listings. Arora instructed Jain as to how to fraudulently apply for Maryland unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits were provided to applicants on prepaid VISA debit cards issued by Citi Prepaid Services (Citi) on behalf of the DLLR, who administered unemployment benefit programs in Maryland. Once the fraudulent benefits were approved, Arora and Jain changed the mailing address for the debit cards to mailboxes that they rented at commercial establishments. Arora and Jain then used the cards to withdraw cash from ATM machines. Arora and Jain obtained more than 45 unauthorized debit cards that contained unemployment insurance funds.
On February 14, 2011, law enforcement officers in Georgia recovered 42 debit cards from Jain’s vehicle, which were issued pursuant to the Maryland unemployment insurance program. Police officers also located several printed pages and a computer file containing the names, dates of birth and social security numbers of approximately 1,200 persons living in Maryland, including the Eastern Shore, Hagerstown, Baltimore and Gaithersburg. Arora had obtained the list of individuals from AV Wireless, a telecommunications business that he operated from 2004 through March 2009, in Gaithersburg, Rockville and other locations. Arora supplied the list to Jain for his use in the scheme.
Arora and Jain obtained more than $340,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits as a result of the scheme.
Vivek Jain, age 27, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, pleaded guilty to his role in the unemployment scheme and is awaiting sentencing.
Credit Card Fraud Scheme
From May 2011 through about August 2011, Arora made fraudulent representations to a merchant, stating that he was using foreign call centers to market a shopping club membership for $9.95 per month, falsely representing that club members would receive discounts not available to non-members. Arora caused a website to be set up which purported to be the vehicle that customers would use to access their club savings. Arora obtained the credit card information of more than 30,000 individuals, which Arora planned to use to charge the membership fee. The merchant agreed to allow Arora to use his credit card processing account to “test” approximately 18,000 credit card numbers, and to actually charge the monthly membership fee more than 10,000 times. The merchant forwarded Arora an agreed upon percentage of funds he received from each transaction. Eventually, the credit card and other companies began reversing the fraudulent charges and charged the merchant penalties and fees. The merchant ended up being charged more than $600,000 in chargeback fees.
Pretrial Release Violations
Arora was placed on pre-trial release on August 26, 2011, under rigorous conditions, including that he stay at his parents’ home on 24/7 electronic home monitoring and that he not use a computer or other electronic device to access the Internet. Despite this, Arora arranged with a third party to purchase a cellular telephone in another name and have the phone delivered covertly to the basement door of his parents’ home. In this way, he was able to continue a scheme to defraud DirecTV.
DirecTV Fraud Scheme
Under federal regulations, DirecTV and its dealers are forbidden from engaging in unsolicited telemarketing pitches. DirecTV dealers receive a $200 commission from each sale of new DirecTV subscriptions. In November 2011, Arora and others agreed to sell subscriptions through telemarketing, which DirecTV dealers would submit as their own sales, splitting the commission with Arora. Arora and a co-conspirator also assumed the identities of dormant DirecTV dealer accounts to submit subscriptions that they intended to sell through telemarketing.
On December 8, 2011, federal agents arrested Arora and executed a search warrant at his parents’ home in Potomac and recovered the cell phone Arora had illegally obtained, thereby preventing Arora from fully carrying out the DirecTV fraud.
Arora faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy; a maximum of 10 years in prison for credit/debit card fraud; and a mandatory two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for aggravated identity theft. Arora and the Government have agreed that if the Court accepts the plea, Arora will be sentenced to nine years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for January 29, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Ellen L Hollander.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their work in the investigation and thanked the Maryland DLLR, District Attorney’s Office, Atlantic Judicial District in Liberty County, Georgia and the Darien, Georgia, Police Department for their assistance. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Harry M. Gruber and Tamera L. Fine, who are prosecuting the case.