Pakistani Citizen Admits Laundering Millions From Massive Computer Hacking And Telecommunications Fraud Scheme
NEWARK, N.J. – A Pakistani citizen today admitted laundering over $19.6 million on behalf of the perpetrators of a massive international computer hacking and telecommunications fraud scheme, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Muhammad Sohail Qasmani, 47, formerly of Bangkok, Thailand, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He remains detained without bail.
“Thanks to the hard work of the prosecutors and agents on this case, Qasmani acknowledged his role in an international scheme that hijacked the telephone networks of U.S. companies and ran up millions in bogus charges,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “Today, he admitted moving over $19 million in illicit proceeds across 10 countries and ensuring the dialers and hackers who perpetuated the scheme received their cut.”
“The successful investigation of Qasmani is a testament to the dedication, hard work, and commitment of the men and women of the FBI, the Enforcement and Removal Operations of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the State Department," said FBI-Newark Acting Special Agent in Charge Andrew Campi.
According to documents filed in this and related cases and statements made in court:
This massive international telecommunications fraud scheme, allegedly led by Noor Aziz, 53, of Karachi, Pakistan, involved unauthorized access to the computer systems – commonly known as PBX systems – that ran the internal telephone networks of numerous businesses and organizations in the United States. Foreign-based hackers targeted the telephone systems of the victim corporations and placed calls to those systems in an attempt to identify unused telephone extensions. Once the hackers identified unused extensions, they illegally reprogrammed the telephone systems so that they could be used to make unlimited long distance calls, all of which were ultimately charged back to the victim corporations.
The hacked telephone systems were then used to make calls to premium telephone numbers – such as purported chat lines, adult entertainment, and psychic hotlines – that generated revenue based on the calls’ duration and were set up and controlled by Aziz. In actuality, the numbers provided no actual services. Telephone company representatives who suspected fraudulent activity and called the numbers heard recordings of fake rings, fake password prompts, fake voicemail messages, music, or dead air on continuous loops.
In 2008, Qasmani, who operated a money laundering and smuggling business in Thailand, agreed to launder proceeds of the scheme for Aziz. In furtherance of the conspiracy, Qasmani established multiple bank accounts to receive the money generated by the illicit telephone traffic. Qasmani also paid the hackers and dialers who worked for Aziz to keep the scheme going.
Specifically, over nearly four years, Qasmani initiated money transfers to approximately 650 unique transferees, located in at least 10 countries, including the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Italy. Qasmani moved a total of approximately $19.6 million in fraud proceeds from November 2008 through Dec. 31, 2012. Qasmani kept laundering the money even after Aziz was arrested in connection with this scheme and later released by foreign authorities.
On Dec. 22, 2014, Special Agents of the FBI arrested Qasmani at Los Angeles International Airport after he arrived on a flight from Bangkok.
The count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for May 17, 2016.
Aziz was charged by indictment on June 20, 2012 and remains a fugitive. For more information, visit the FBI Cyber’s Most Wanted list. The charges and allegations against him are merely accusations, and he is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Campi, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea. He also thanked special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for their assistance in this case.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Judson Welle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Unit in Newark.
Defense Counsel: Assistant Federal Public Defender Lisa Mack Esq., Newark