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Press Release

Florida Man Pleads Guilty To Kickback Scheme To Defraud Williams Sonoma

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California
Defendant Admits to Conspiring to Arrange Kickbacks and Divert Payments Belonging to Williams Sonoma to a Shell Company and Private Accounts

SAN FRANCISCO – Augusto Alizo, pleaded guilty in federal court today to charges related to his role in a multi-million-dollar fraudulent kickback scheme, announced United States Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey and IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Mosley. The plea was accepted by the Hon. Richard Seeborg, U.S. District Judge.

In his plea agreement, Alizo, of Weston, Florida, admitted he conspired with two co-defendants—a Vice President at Williams Sonoma, Inc. (WSI), and Kourosh Mirmehdi, Alizo’s direct report at the global logistics company where they both worked—to divert and steal more than $4 million in commercial real estate broker commission rebates that should have gone to WSI.

WSI is a home-goods retailer headquartered in San Francisco that operates brands such as Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and West Elm. The global logistics company where Alizo worked helped clients secure commercial real estate, including large commercial warehouses. In his plea agreement, Alizo admitted that he concealed from the global logistics company that co-defendant Mirmehdi was helping WSI obtain commercial warehouse space. Alizo also admitted that he and his co-defendants concealed from WSI and the global logistics company that he, Mirmehdi, and the conspiring Vice President at WSI pocketed real estate broker commissions rebates that should have gone to WSI.

As part of his plea agreement, Alizo admitted that from 2020 through 2022, co-defendant Mirmehdi was working to secure commercial warehouse space for WSI in Georgia, New Jersey, Arizona, and California. Alizo hid this from their employer. Alizo also hid from their employer the fact that his co-defendants were negotiating with real estate brokers to obtain broker commission rebates that should have gone to WSI. These broker commissions rebates were paid to REM Group, a shell company owned by the conspiring WSI Vice President, and then distributed to private bank accounts controlled by Alizo, Mirmehdi, and the conspiring WSI Vice President. REM Group was not affiliated with WSI. Alizo also admitted in his plea agreement that he knew co-defendant Mirmehdi was holding himself out to real estate brokers as an employee of the global logistics company and that in negotiating with real estate brokers Mirmehdi was benefitting from status and bargaining power due to his position and title at the global logistics company. Alizo further admitted that he knew Mirmehdi was falsely and deceptively representing that WSI was the global logistics company’s client when in fact it was not. Alizo concealed this deception from his and Mirmehdi’s employer.

As part of his plea agreement, Alizo admitted that he acted with the intent to deceive and cheat both his employer and WSI to further the scheme and conspiracy to defraud so that he and his co-defendants could obtain broker commissions rebates that should have gone to WSI. Alizo admitted that he received approximately 25% of the broker commissions and rebates obtained as part of the conspiracy. Alizo admitted that the conspirators obtained a total of $4,110,323.81 and that he personally obtained $965,526.51.

Alizo was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 11, 2023. He was charged with one count of wire fraud conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349; four counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; and one count of money laundering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C § 1956(h). Under the plea agreement, Alizo pleaded guilty to the wire fraud conspiracy. If Alizo complies with his plea agreement, the remaining counts will be dismissed at sentencing.

Alizo is currently released on bond. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for August 27, 2024. The maximum statutory penalty is 20 years in prison for each of the wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy counts, as well as a $250,000 fine for the wire fraud conspiracy count and a $500,000 fine for the money laundering conspiracy count. As part of any sentence the court also may order Alizo to serve an additional term of supervised release and to pay restitution, if appropriate. However, any sentence will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Alizo and three co-defendants were charged via grand jury indictment on April 11, 2023. Co-defendant Khourosh Mirmehdi pleaded guilty on May 30, 2023. Co-defendant Michael Podhurst pleaded guilty on June 9, 2023. The charges against the conspiring WSI Vice President are pending.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christiaan Highsmith is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Aarian Beti. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the CI.

Updated February 29, 2024