Justice Department Charges Resident of Ukraine and Files Case to Halt Unauthorized Debits to Consumer Bank Accounts
The Justice Department today announced charges against a U.S. citizen residing in Ukraine for his alleged participation in a scheme to deceive banks. In a related case, the department filed a civil complaint and secured a temporary restraining order against a ring of individuals and corporations allegedly responsible for using the scheme to steal funds directly from thousands of consumers’ bank accounts. The civil complaint was unsealed yesterday.
On Aug. 24, a grand jury in the District of Nevada indicted Harold Sobel, 68, a U.S. citizen who resides in Ukraine, for conspiracy to make false statements to a bank and two counts of false statements to banks. Sobel was arrested on Aug. 12 pursuant to a criminal complaint at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, before he could return to Ukraine. According to the indictment, Sobel traveled from Ukraine to the United States in October 2019 and February 2020 and used his identity to open accounts at federally insured banks, control of which he immediately transferred to a co-conspirator who then impersonated Sobel in communications with the banks.
In a related civil complaint unsealed yesterday, the Department of Justice alleges that a transnational network of fraudsters, including Harold Sobel, Guy Benoit, Edward Courdy and more than two dozen other defendants, stole millions of dollars from American consumers by charging unauthorized debits against their bank accounts. The fraudsters used sham companies to cover their tracks and make the unauthorized debits appear legitimate.
“The scheme alleged in these cases involves an elaborate plot to reach into consumers’ bank accounts and steal their hard-earned savings,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Through these cases, the Department of Justice makes clear that it will use all tools at its disposal, including civil and criminal remedies, to halt such practices and bring offenders to justice.”
“Today’s charges allege insidious individuals and companies alike, employed deceptive techniques to steal money from thousands of unsuspecting victims,” said Inspector in Charge Eric Shen of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group. “This investigation showcases the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s relentlessness is pursuing justice and holding individuals and corporations, be it domestically or internationally, accountable for their criminal actions. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate sophisticated fraud cases targeting U.S. consumers.”
According to the civil complaint, the defendants posted unauthorized debit transactions in the name of sham corporate entities against the bank accounts of unsuspecting consumers. To hide the fraudulent nature of these transactions from consumers and banks, defendants allegedly took elaborate steps to portray the sham corporate entities as legitimate businesses that provided internet-related services, creating bogus websites for the entities, fake customer authorizations for the entities’ services, and a “customer service” call center to field complaints. The complaint further alleges that the defendants used thousands of sham “micro transactions” so that banks would not detect the chargebacks of their unauthorized debits. The temporary restraining order obtained by the government enjoined the defendants from making unauthorized debits from consumers’ bank accounts and from using micro transactions to disguise chargebacks. The government also successfully petitioned for the appointment of a receiver to stop defendants from dissipating assets obtained through the fraud scheme.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service conducted the investigation leading to the charges.
The government is represented in the criminal case by Trial Attorneys Wei Xiang and Meredith Healy of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mina Chang of the District of Nevada. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas provided substantial assistance.
The government is represented in the civil matter by Trial Attorneys Michael Wadden and Amy Kaplan, and Assistant Director Lisa Hsiao of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.
The conspiracy charge against Harold Sobel provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison. Making a false statement to a bank provides for a maximum of 30 years in prison. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch