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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Illinois

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, September 19, 2014

Crystal Lake Man Sentenced To 59 Months In Federal Prison For Secret Shopper Scheme

ROCKFORD — A Crystal Lake, Ill. man was sentenced today to federal prison for mail fraud involving a secret shopper scheme. U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Kapala sentenced MICHAEL S. MACKAY, 48, of Crystal Lake, Ill., to 59 months in federal prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release. In addition, Mackay was sentenced to pay restitution of $26,971.39 to the victims of his scheme.

Mackay pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud on June 13, 2014, admitting that from Sept. 2011 to at least May 16, 2012, he participated in a scheme to defraud victims into falsely believing they were hired to work as “secret shoppers” or payment processors. According to the written plea agreement, after applying to work-at-home advertisements on the Internet, victims would receive a letter with at least one counterfeit negotiable instrument, such as a counterfeit money order. The victims were instructed to deposit the counterfeit negotiable instrument in their financial institution, retain a certain percentage as payment for their services, go to the nearest Western Union and wire transfer the remaining proceeds as instructed. The victims were also instructed to report their experience, believing they were hired as secret shoppers to evaluate local businesses, via email to an email address contained in the letter. The participants in the scheme received the proceeds via the wire transfers before the victims learned that the money orders were counterfeit.

Mackay admitted that during the course of the scheme he received at least $2.5 million in counterfeit negotiable instruments in packages sent to Crystal Lake from New York, Nigeria, and Ghana, and other locations. Each package contained counterfeit money orders and other negotiable instruments in amounts ranging from $500 to $2,000 each of which appeared to be issued by either the United States Postal Service, American Express, Capital One Bank, Citizens National Bank of Texas, First National Bank, or the Navy Federal Credit Union. Mackay received emails from other scheme participants that contained instructions, a “secret shopper” letter, and United States Postal Service Express mailing labels. Mackay then placed a “secret shopper” letter in a United States Postal Service express mailing envelope along with at least two counterfeit money orders to multiple victims throughout the United States. Mackay received wire transfers of at least $10,000 from his victims and others involved in the scheme as payment for his role in the scheme before the victims learned that the negotiable instruments were counterfeit.

The sentencing was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Antonio Gomez, Postal Inspector-In-Charge of the Chicago Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael D. Love.

Updated July 23, 2015