Belgian and Lebanese National Convicted of Wire Fraud and Money Laundering
BOSTON – A Belgian and Lebanese national holding an Illinois law license has been convicted by a federal jury of fraud and money laundering charges in connection with multiple scams that defrauded victims in several states.
Hassan A. Abbas, 64, of Belgium, was convicted following a six-day jury trial of one count of money laundering conspiracy, one count of money laundering, two counts of unlawful monetary transactions and two counts of wire fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin scheduled sentencing for Sept. 2022. Abbas was indicted in January 2020 and subsequently charged in a superseding indictment in November 2020.
“The defendant was part of a scheme that toyed with people’s emotions, deceiving them to take their money. The funds he swindled were supposed to be used as the down payment on a home or to fund a comfortable retirement. There are real victims in financial frauds and my office fights for victims. We always have and we always will.” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins.
“Hassan Abbas should be ashamed of himself for using his law license as a shield to exploit the hopes and dreams of innocent victims to line his own pockets. He targeted, preyed upon, and systematically ripped them off without a second thought,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “Last year, Massachusetts residents reported losing more than $83 million due to romance and business email compromise scams, and the FBI is committed to holding the criminals behind these scams accountable for the harm they do to everyday citizens and our financial institutions.”
Between June 2017 and January 2019, Abbas and others defrauded victims through a series of romance, business email compromise (BEC), and other scams designed to trick victims into wiring monies to bank accounts they controlled. A BEC scheme is a sophisticated fraud often targeting individuals and businesses involved in wire transfer payments. The fraud is carried out by compromising and/or “spoofing” legitimate business email accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques, to cause victims to transfer funds to accounts controlled by the scammers. In romance scams, perpetrators generally create fictitious online personas to develop online romantic relationships with individuals in the U.S., and then leverage those relationships to obtain money and/or property.
Abbas created sham corporate entities and opened bank accounts in the name of those entities. Under false pretenses, both individual and corporate victims were then instructed to wire funds into the accounts Abbas controlled. Some victims were in the process of buying homes and believed the funds were for that purpose, including two Massachusetts victims who were tricked into wiring money to an individual they believed was their real estate broker. Others, including a third Massachusetts victim, believed they were transferring funds on behalf of or for the benefit of their romantic partners. Corporate victims were targeted as part of the scheme as well and were deceived into remitting invoice payments to the accounts Abbas controlled.
Shortly after receiving the victim funds, Abbas transferred the funds to overseas accounts, domestic personal accounts or spent the funds on personal expenses.
The charge of wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of money laundering provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $500,000, or twice the value of the criminally derived property. The charge of unlawful monetary transaction provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000, or twice the value of the criminally derived property. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.
U.S. Attorney Rollins and FBI SAC Bonavolonta made the announcement today. Valuable assistance was provided by the Essex County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mackenzie A. Queenin and David Holcomb of Rollins’ Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit are prosecuting the case.