RICHMOND, Va. – A husband and wife were sentenced today to a combined 92 months in prison for their roles in a sophisticated fraud scheme that primarily targeted elderly Americans.
According to court documents, Chirag Choksi, 36, who was sentenced to 78 months in prison, and Shachi Majmudar, 36, who was sentenced to 14 months, were members of a criminal conspiracy in which members used a variety of schemes, including impersonating law enforcement officers and other government officials, to trick and coerce victims into mailing and shipping cash to other conspiracy members by convincing the victims, a disproportionate number of whom were elders, that it was in their best interests to do so.
“The financial and emotional harm these scams cause elderly victims and their family members can be devastating,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The scope of fraud perpetrated through robocalls from overseas call centers is truly enormous. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2019 it received nearly 400,000 complaints alleging imposter fraud claims totaling $152.9 million, which government officials suspect substantially underestimates the extent of fraud because many victims do not report their losses. As seen from the evidence in this case, a disproportionate percentage of those victims are elderly. This office will continue to aggressively prosecute crimes involving elder fraud, and we are firmly committed to bringing the offenders to justice, no matter where they reside.”
These schemes generally started with automated “robocalls” from a call center in India that were designed to create a sense of urgency with unsuspecting recipients. The messages typically told the recipient that they had some sort of serious legal problem, and that if they did not immediately take a particular action demanded by the callers then there will be drastic consequences. Typically the recipients were threatened with arrest, significant financial penalties, or cessation of government benefits. The fraudsters almost invariably instructed the call recipient that, in order to prevent these dire consequences, the recipient must pay money, by wire transfer or cash, to some purported government entity. This conspiracy operated “money mule” cells in multiple states, including New Jersey, California, Indiana, Texas, Illinois and Minnesota. These money mules would receive parcels containing cash that had been sent by victims and then deposit the money in bank accounts controlled by conspirators.
“These fraudsters used fear, intimidation, and even posed as law enforcement to threaten seniors and swindle them out of their hard-earned money,” said James A. Dawson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division. “These scams can cause irreparable harm to the unsuspecting and trusting victims they target. The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to stop those who are targeting our senior communities. Regardless of whether the perpetrators live domestically or overseas, the FBI will work to bring them to justice.”
In one particular scheme involving a victim in Chesterfield County, members of the conspiracy impersonated DEA agents and advised the victim that they had found a vehicle located near the United States Southwest border that contained a large amount of cocaine and the victim’s bank information. The fraudsters then convinced that victim to surrender half the cash in her bank accounts as a sign of good faith until a thorough investigation had cleared her of any criminal activity.
According to court documents, Choksi and Majmudar worked as money mules for the Minnesota cell of this conspiracy for at least two months in 2019. Between May and June, Choksi and Majmudar received victim cash shipments at their home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Choksi also used counterfeit driver’s licenses to pick up victim cash shipments from locations in and around Eden Prairie. Majmudar regularly tracked victim cash shipments. Once in hand, she and Choksi made video recordings of Choksi removing and counting the money, and then sent the videos to their conspiracy supervisor as proof of how much victim cash had been received. The two each then made multiple cash deposits into bank accounts controlled by conspiracy members.
In total, Choksi and Majmudar received or attempted to receive 11 shipments from 10 victims located in multiple states around the country. The total amount of victim cash in these packages was $132,200. Of the 10 victims who sent cash to the defendants, nine were between 66 and 86 years of age.
Combatting elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors is a key priority of the Department of Justice. Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. It is a term used to describe five subtypes of elder abuse: physical abuse, financial fraud, scams and exploitation, caregiver neglect and abandonment, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Elder abuse is a serious crime against some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, affecting at least 10 percent of older Americans every year. Together with our federal, state, local and tribal partners, the Department of Justice is steadfastly committed to combatting all forms of elder abuse and financial exploitation through enforcement actions, training and resources, research, victim services, and public awareness. This holistic and robust response demonstrates the Department’s unwavering dedication to fighting for justice for older Americans.
The Eden Prairie Police Department (Minnesota) provided significant assistance with this investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Hood and Kaitlin G. Cooke prosecuted the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:19-cr-160.