New York Check Cashing Company and Owner Plead Guilty for Roles in $19 Million Scheme
Belair Payroll Services Inc. (Belair), a multi-branch check cashing company in Flushing, N.Y., and its owner, Craig Panzera, 47, pleaded guilty today for failing to follow reporting and anti-money laundering requirements for more than $19 million in transactions, in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Panzera also pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by willfully failing to pay income and payroll taxes.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch of the Eastern District of New York, Acting Director John Sandweg of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Chief Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
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. Sentencing for Belair and Panzera will be determined at a later date.
According to court records, from in or about June 2009 through June 2011, certain individuals presented to Belair’s manager and other employees checks to be cashed at Belair. The checks were written on accounts of shell corporations that appeared to be health care related, but in fact, the corporations did no legitimate business. The shell corporations and their corresponding bank accounts on which the checks were written were established in the names of foreign nationals, many of whom were no longer in the United States.
Belair accepted these checks and provided cash in excess of $10,000 to the individuals. Panzera and others at Belair never obtained any identification documents or information from those individuals. Belair filed currency transaction reports (CTRs) that falsely stated the checks were cashed by the foreign nationals who set up the shell corporations, and in certain CTRs, Belair failed to indicate the full amount of cash provided to the individuals. The individuals cashed more than $19 million through Belair during the course of the scheme. Panzera and Belair willfully failed to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program by cashing these checks.
The charges in the indictment against Panzera’s and Belair’s co-defendants remain pending and are merely accusations. Those defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The cases are being investigated by agents from ICE Homeland Security Investigations and IRS-CI. These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Claiborne W. Porter and Kevin G. Mosley of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section’s (AFMLS) Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit, Trial Attorney Darrin McCullough of AFMLS’s Forfeiture Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Notopoulos of the Eastern District of New York.
The Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit investigates and prosecutes complex, multi-district and international criminal cases involving financial institutions and individuals who violate the money laundering statutes, the Bank Secrecy Act and other related statutes. The Unit’s prosecutions generally focus on three types of violators: financial institutions, including their officers, managers and employees, whose actions threaten the integrity of the individual institution or the wider financial system; professional money launderers and gatekeepers who provide their services to serious criminal organizations; and individuals and entities engaged in using the latest and most sophisticated money laundering techniques and tools.