19 People Indicted Following Investigations Into International Fraud and Money Laundering Rings
Charges Unsealed as Takedowns Are Carried Out in United States and Overseas
WASHINGTON – Federal indictments were unsealed today in the District of Columbia charging 19 people with taking part in various international fraud and money laundering conspiracies that led to more than $13 million in losses, including one scheme in which mid-level corporate employees were tricked into wiring millions of dollars to bank accounts under control of those in the criminal enterprise.
The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips; Assistant Director in Charge Andrew Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; Assistant Inspector General for Investigations John L. Phillips of the U.S. Department of the Treasury; Special Agent in Charge Clark E. Settles of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) Washington, D.C.; Assistant Director Joseph Trigg of INTERPOL Washington (U.S. National Central Bureau); Director Vaughn Ary of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs; Acting Director Christian Schurman of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and Special Agent in Charge Brian J. Ebert, Washington Field Office, U.S. Secret Service.
Sixteen of the 19 defendants were arrested overnight and today in a law enforcement operation coordinated by the FBI. Another was previously arrested, and two remain at large. The arrests took place in New York and Los Angeles, as well as Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and Israel. The arrests were conducted by more than 50 law enforcement agents.
The arrests followed a multi-year investigative effort by federal and international law enforcement agencies to target multimillion-dollar fraud and money laundering schemes perpetrated by a transnational organized crime network.
“These indictments and today’s arrests followed an international investigation into an interconnected web of money launderers, fraudsters and individuals that aided and abetted their criminal activities,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “The defendants in the cases being unsealed today are accused of taking part in schemes in the United States and abroad, costing victims millions of dollars. The investigation demonstrates the importance of international cooperation amongst law enforcement in combatting fraud and money laundering on a global basis.”
“Members of the transnational organized crime group who carried out these schemes were sophisticated, well connected and continually honed their techniques to exploit their victims,” said Assistant Director in Charge Vale. “In total, they stole more than $13 million from over 170 victims, primarily in the United States. Because of the dedication and perseverance by our law enforcement partners in the United States and abroad, the FBI’s multi-year investigation into these schemes and this international criminal network, has yielded the disruption or return of more than $56 million in victim funds.”
“I would like to commend our law enforcement partners, the FBI, HSI and our international partners for the outstanding joint investigation that has led us to the arrests reported today,” said Assistant Inspector General Phillips. “Treasury OIG is committed to continuing to work with our law enforcement partners to protect the Treasury and the nation’s financial infrastructure from Transnational criminal organizations that attempt to exploit financial institutions and money service businesses and their anti-money laundering programs by moving illicit funds obtained in various scams perpetrated against businesses and citizens across the United States and the world that use the financial infrastructure of the United States to launder their illicit proceeds.”
A total of four indictments were unsealed today in these alleged schemes:
Online Vehicle Fraud: Participants in this scheme used the Internet to falsely advertise cars for sale that they did not own, the indictment alleges. Operating out of Europe, the participants marketed the cars on popular websites aiming to attract buyers in the United States. They offered prices that were lower than those offered by legitimate sellers. Prospective buyers were directed to deposit money into fraudulently created bank accounts via wire transfers. The funds were then immediately withdrawn and the expectant buyers never received any vehicles.
The indictment alleges that the criminal activities took place from November 2010 until April 2013 in the District of Columbia and elsewhere. According to the indictment, the co-conspirators induced at least 170 victims, located primarily in the United States, collectively to transfer at least $4 million to bank accounts controlled by those in the conspiracy, and the co-conspirators were able to withdraw approximately $3.2 million from the fraudulently opened accounts in the United States.
Eight defendants have been arrested and are charged with conspiracy to commit bank and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit a travel act violation, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. They include Alex Almasi, 35; Ferenc Gajdos, 33; Laszlo Hesz,, 41; Attila Kartaly, 35; Zoltan Koszegi, 41; Alfred Kuttenberg, 34; Attila Molnar, 37, and Gabor Pataki, 35, all of Hungary. Gajdos and Kuttenberg also are charged with one count each of bank fraud.
Business Email Compromise (BEC): This scheme was an outgrowth of the vehicle fraud scheme, according to the indictment. The defendants allegedly used the Internet and primarily U.S.-based electronic communications to target mid-sized and large companies and impersonate executive-level employees in e-mail communications with mid-level employees. These mid-level employees were led to believe they were being entrusted to handle a large financial transaction, such as a “secret” corporate acquisition, the indictment alleges. The employees were instructed to initiate wire transfers from the company’s corporate bank accounts to bank accounts controlled by members of the criminal enterprise. Once the funds were transferred, the money was quickly wire transferred out of the reach of the target corporation into accounts located in the People’s Republic of China and elsewhere, with the funds ultimately being delivered to co-conspirators located in Europe and elsewhere.
The indictment alleges that this scheme took place from approximately January 2014 through March 2015. The indictment details over $10 million in transactions involving six companies from Germany, Spain, Finland, and Portugal.
Four defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Those arrested include: Harry Meir Mimoun Amar aka “Harry Amar,” or “Ari Amar,” 38, a resident of Israel and a citizen of Morocco and Israel; Sabina Selimovic, a resident of Germany and citizen of Serbia; and Cristian Flamanzeanu aka “Christiano Flamanzeano,” 32, a resident and citizen of Romania. A fourth defendant remains at large.
Unlicensed Money Transmitting Network: While investigating the fraud schemes and the co-conspirators’ related efforts to launder the fraud proceeds, law enforcement uncovered an unlicensed money transmitting network (“hawala”) operating in the United States, Europe, and Israel. This indictment reflects the FBI’s efforts to expose and identify certain “hawala” co-conspirators by transmitting FBI undercover funds through the “hawala” network in separate transactions in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. The activities charged in the indictment took place from June 2015 through April 2016.
Six defendants were arrested and are charged with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. Those arrested include Ori Saadon, 53, born in Israel and a resident of Israel; Itzhak Salama, 40, born in Israel and a resident of Los Angeles; Golan Chkechkov, 39, born in Israel and a resident of New York, New York.; Michael Admon, 50, born in Israel and a resident of New York, New York, and Haviv Arazi, 27, a citizen of Israel and a resident of New York, N.Y. A sixth defendant remains at large.
International Money Laundering Conspiracy: This indictment alleges that Stanislav Nazarov, an Israeli citizen, generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds from various fraudulent schemes and engaged in international money laundering. Nazarov was arrested and is charged with three money laundering offenses during December 2016.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.
This investigation is being conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Treasury with assistance from HSI Washington, D.C.; the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Secret Service Washington Field Office, and the DSS. Assistance was provided by the Israeli National Police; the Hungarian National Bureau of Investigation, Rapid Response and Special Police Services; Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany; Warsaw Metropolitan Police, and the Polish National Police, Police of the Czech Republic; the Slovak National Police; the General Inspectorate of Romanian Police, and Bulgaria's Ministry of Interior, Sofia Interpol, as well as INTERPOL Washington, the U.S. National Central Bureau. The FBI Legal Attaches in Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Budapest, Bucharest, Prague, and Berlin also provided assistance.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Lucas of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Marando and David Kent of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Assistance was provided by former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Atkinson and David Last, former Paralegal Specialists Taryn McLaughlin and Angela Lawrence, Supervisory Paralegal Specialist Tasha Harris, Paralegal Specialists C. Rosalind Pressley, Brittany Phillips and Christopher Toms, and Litigation Technology Specialist Jeanie Latimore-Brown.