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TRENTON, N.J. – A New Jersey man has been arrested for charging unauthorized credit card transactions for music lessons that were not provided to students, and laundering these funds outside of the United States, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced.
Michael Lawson, 49, was indicted in 2013 on six counts of wire fraud and six counts of international money laundering. Lawson was extradited from the Czech Republic, made his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bongiovanni in Trenton federal court, and was released.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Lawson was the owner of several internet-based companies that matched art and music teachers with students in need of lessons throughout the United States. The students entered into contracts with Lawson’s companies and agreed to pay for lessons via online credit card transactions. Beginning in November 2008, Lawson started renewing students’ contracts for music lessons without the students’ knowledge and consent, and started charging the students’ credit cards for the lessons that they had not requested. Lawson then directed the funds to be transferred internationally to accounts that he controlled abroad.
The counts of wire fraud are punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, whichever is greatest. The counts of money laundering are punishable by a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000, or twice the amount involved in the offense, whichever is greater.
Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charges. She also thanked the U.S. Marshals Service; the Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic; the Czech Police Presidium; INTERPOL; the office of FBI Legat Prague; the office of FBI Legat "The Hague;" and FBI-New York JFK Airport Resident Agency, for their assistance. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in securing Lawson’s arrest and extradition from the Czech Republic.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Suggs in Trenton.
The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.