Former Eastern Shore Resident Sentenced to More Than Five Years in Federal Prison for Conspiring to Sell More Than $3.5 Million in Stolen Goods and for Tax Fraud
Obtained More Than $3.5 Million from the Online Sales of Stolen Goods, Including iPods Meant for Underprivileged School Children, Obtained from Co-Conspirators Over a Ten-Year Period; Filed False Tax Returns Significantly Underreporting His Income
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake today sentenced Saurabh Chawla, age 36, of Aurora, Colorado, to 66 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release on federal charges of conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen goods, and tax evasion. Judge Blake ordered Chawla to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of $713,619, and signed an order of forfeiture requiring Chawla to forfeit a 2013 Tesla Model S and $2,308,062.61 from accounts held in his name and the sale of property in Aurora, Colorado.
The sentence was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell J. Waldon of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Washington, D.C. Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore.
According to his guilty plea and other court documents, from 2009 through 2019, Chawla purchased over $3.5 million of stolen goods from individuals with “insider” access to the goods and merchandise, such that they could steal the items and sell them to Chawla without detection. Chawla initially sold goods and merchandise on eBay through the eBay stores thecheetahexpress, eurotronics_4_less, and eurotronics-4-less; the latter two were associated with Chawla’s relatives. On about April 27, 2014, eBay suspended the thecheetahexpress and eurotronics_4_less stores from operating on eBay because “recent account activity has raised serious security concerns.”
“Saurabh Chawla coordinated a $3.5 million scheme - purchasing items from co-conspirators that he knew had been stolen, including electronics that were intended to help underprivileged New Mexico school children, and selling them for his personal gain,” said Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner. “To add insult to injury, Chawla underreported his income on his tax returns and aided the tax evasion of a relative, causing a tax loss totaling more than $700,000 to the U.S. government. These are not victimless crimes. This criminal behavior cheats all the honest businesses and taxpayers who play by the rules. Hopefully, this sentence sends the message that we will continue to coordinate with our law enforcement partners to bring these criminals to justice.”
“This prosecution showcases what law enforcement agencies are capable of achieving when we work together. Criminals and those who refuse to obey the laws don’t stand a chance against a unified team of dedicated officers and agents working toward a common goal,” said Special Agent in Charge for HSI Baltimore Field Office James Mancuso. “HSI will continue to partner with our law enforcement friends to keep our communities safe and pursue justice for victims of these crimes.”
“When criminals like Chawla traffic stolen goods and willfully underreport their income to evade taxes, we all lose,” said Darrell J. Waldon, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the IRS-CI Washington D.C. Field Office. “Taxes pay for services, and criminal schemes like this one undermine the integrity of our nation’s tax system. We will continue to collaborate with our investigative partners to stop these divisive schemes and fulfill our mission to ensure the integrity and fairness of our tax system.”
Shortly thereafter, and continuing until law enforcement executed search warrants in 2019, Chawla convinced James Bender, who was a good friend from college, to allow him to sell goods and merchandise online through eBay accounts Bender controlled in exchange for Chawla paying Bender a commission. Bender controlled and operated multiple online eBay and Amazon accounts, including “HiddenGemFurniture” (“HGF”), which was registered to Person A, “EddiesAffordableGear” (“EAG”) and “AffordableGoodies4You” (“AG”). Bender used, operated and controlled a PayPal account ending in 4211 (“PayPal 4211”), which was linked to HGF, EAG, and AG. Over time, Chawla offered and sold a large amount of stolen goods and merchandise for sale through HGF, other eBay stores, and other online marketplaces. At one point, Chawla had 400 active listings for goods and products on eBay.
As detailed in plea agreements, Chawla purchased Apple products from Kristy Stock from 2012 to 2018. Stock was a New Mexico public school employee responsible for overseeing a program to provide Apple iPods to school children with the intent to benefit underprivileged Native American children in New Mexico. Stock stole more than 3,000 iPods purchased by the school district and sold them to Chawla. Chawla initially purchased the iPods from Stock on eBay, and they later dealt directly with each other, in emails, texts, and phone calls. Stock repeatedly advised Chawla of the items she had obtained, providing details such as the model, color and number of Apple products available. Chawla and Stock then negotiated a price, and Stock shipped the items to Chawla’s relative on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. Chawla paid Stock through PayPal. Stock admitted that she received more than $800,000 in illegal proceeds from selling stolen iPods worth more than $1 million. In 2019, Chawla purchased Apple products that he believed had been stolen by a different person working at another school district in New Mexico, including 25 iPads for $5,000 in May 2019. After his relative received the stolen goods, Chawla listed them for sale online through eBay at a substantial markup.
According to plea agreements, from 2009 through 2019 Chawla also purchased large quantities of goods from former FedEx employee Joseph Kukta, who obtained most of the items he sold to Chawla from bulk purchases shipped via FedEx and intended for delivery to FedEx customers, including a Walmart Distribution Center in Smyrna, Delaware. Kukta was able to steal the goods in such a way that FedEx never detected the crime, and Kukta then delivered the stolen goods and merchandise to Chawla’s relative in Maryland. Kukta sent Chawla “weekly lists of available goods and merchandise,” and Chawla typically paid 50% of the retail price for the goods and merchandise Kukta had stolen. As with Stock, Chawla sold the goods and merchandise from Kukta to eBay customers at significant markups (often at a 100% price increase). In total, Chawla paid Kukta more than $1.5 million for goods and merchandise that Chawla resold for more than $3 million.
In furtherance of the fraud scheme, Chawla and Bender repeatedly deceived online platforms such as Amazon, eBay, as well as the manufacturers and distributors, as to the source of the goods and merchandise being sold, including the iPods that Stock stole from the New Mexico school district and goods and merchandise that Kukta stole from the Delaware FedEx facility. Chawla and Bender repeatedly crafted deceptions and caused false information to be presented to cover up the true origins of the goods and merchandise offered online. For example, in May 2014, Chawla caused Kukta to create a fake invoice that had false information about the parties involved in the transaction and the price paid per unit purchased. As part of his participation in the fraud scheme, Bender received more than $10,000 per year from the eBay sales of stolen goods and merchandise.
Chawla further admitted in his plea agreement that he filed false tax returns for the tax years 2009 through 2017, falsely inflating the cost of goods sold and expenses for his businesses and underreported his adjusted gross income and tax due. As a result, Chawla agreed that he failed to pay at least $640,000 in additional taxes due for tax years 2009 to 2017.
From 2009 to 2017, Chawla also knowingly aided and abetted the tax evasion crimes of his relative and Chawla is therefore responsible for the tax losses stemming from his relative’s tax evasion. This mainly involved the underreporting of the relative’s $60,000 per year of wages from Cheetah Express, resulting in a tax loss of more than $70,000.
In total, Chawla caused a tax loss of more than $700,000 to the United States relating to the income of Chawla and his relative.
Co-conspirators Kristy Stock, age 46, of Waterflow, New Mexico, James Edward Bender, age 36, of Baltimore, Maryland and Joseph Kukta, age 45, of Laurel, Delaware, have pleaded guilty to their roles in the fraud scheme and are awaiting sentencing.
Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner commended the IRS-Criminal Investigation and HSI for their work in the investigation. Mr. Lenzner thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Harry M. Gruber and Paul A. Riley, who are prosecuting these cases.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-md and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach.
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