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OAKLAND – Yasuhiro Watanabe pleaded guilty in federal court in Oakland today to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson.
In pleading guilty, Watanabe admitted that, between 2009 and early September 2013, he engaged in a scheme to defraud Compass Bank and Bank of America. The scheme involved multiple participants, and victimized bank branches in the Northern District of California, Nevada, and Arizona, among other places. According to the plea agreement, approximately once a month, Watanabe recruited individuals in Japan to travel with him to the United States for the purpose of opening bank accounts at Compass Bank and Bank of America. Once the accounts were opened, Watanabe funded the accounts by causing a $1,000 - $2,000 wire transfer to be made, from bank accounts in Japan, to the newly-opened accounts held in the names of Watanabe’s coconspirators. For their role in the scheme, Watanabe typically paid his coconspirators’ travel costs, and a fee of approximately $1,000. Watanabe directed his coconspirators to obtain debit cards for the accounts and give them to Watanabe. He then used the cards in Japan to purchase goods valued in amounts in excess of the funds on deposit. Watanabe then will sell those goods for cash. Watanabe’s fraud scheme caused combined losses to Compass Bank and Bank of America of over $550,000.
Watanabe, 39, of Japan, was initially charged by complaint on Oct. 25, 2013. On Feb. 11, 2014, he was charged by Information with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in violation of 18 United States Code, Section 1349. Under the plea agreement, Watanabe pleaded guilty to that sole count.
Watanabe has been in federal custody since his arrest at Seattle – Tacoma International Airport on Oct. 27, 2013.
Watanabe’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Friday, July 11, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. before the Honorable Jon S. Tigar, United States District Court Judge, in Oakland. The maximum statutory penalty for each count, in violation of 18 United States Code, Section 1349, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, is 30 years’ imprisonment, and a fine of $1,000,000, plus 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.
Thomas E. Stevens is the Assistant U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Kathleen Turner. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.