Leader of Nationwide Wire Fraud Scheme that Exploited App-Based Rideshare and Food Delivery Companies Sentenced to Almost Three Years in Prison
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mokhtari (619) 546-8402
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – August 29, 2022
SAN DIEGO – Gustavo De Avila Moreira Farinha, the lead defendant in a nationwide wire fraud and identity theft scheme, was sentenced in federal court today to 34 months in prison.
De Avila is the last of five defendants to be sentenced in connection with the scheme, which targeted app-based rideshare and food delivery companies and their customers.
In May 2021, five Brazilian nationals, including De Avila, were charged by criminal complaint and later by indictment with engaging in a nationwide conspiracy to establish fraudulent driver accounts with multiple internet and app-based rideshare and food delivery companies, including by using identities stolen from the very customers of those companies. De Avila’s co-defendant and long-term girlfriend, Tatiane Pereira Arantes, was sentenced earlier this month to more than 2½ years in prison, while De Avila’s other co-defendants—Natalia Magalhaes Rocha, Leonardo Trulsen De Oliveira, and Thassya Rebeca Da Silva Alves—were previously sentenced to 2 years and 4½ months, 2 years and 3 months, and 2 years, respectively.
As set forth in his plea agreement and publicly filed sentencing documents, De Avila admitted that between 2018 and May 2021, he and his co-conspirators, all of whom were Brazilian nationals living in the United States illegally, operated a scheme to defraud major app-based rideshare and food delivery companies. In Spring 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, the conspirators shifted away from the rideshare companies, which saw a dramatic decrease in traffic, to food, grocery and other delivery companies, which saw a corresponding and precipitous increase in demand. De Avila and his co-conspirators exploited the surge in demand by creating driver accounts with stolen identities, collecting referral bonuses from the fraudulent accounts, and by using, renting, and selling the accounts to others on these platforms, including people who were not otherwise qualified to drive for the platforms.
De Avila and his co-conspirators also admitted that once they received payment from the rideshare and delivery companies, they laundered the money both to promote the conspiracy and to conceal the fact that the source of the funds was an elaborate fraudulent scheme. While the fraudulent scheme targeted popular app-based rideshare and food delivery services, De Avila and his co-conspirators also stole and used the identities of close to 100 victims to create fraudulent driver accounts on the various platforms over the three-year conspiracy.
Before imposing a 34-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel stated that De Avila and his co-conspirators “harvested identities,” which left victims with a “lingering unknown” as to whether their identities were “in the ether” or in the hands of other criminals.
“Today’s sentencing is the final step to achieving justice on behalf of dozens of victims whose identities were stolen,” said U.S. Attorney Randy S. Grossman. “All five defendants will spend at least two years in prison for sending their victims on a miserable journey to reclaim their good names. We are determined to pursue cases against identity thieves because these crimes have such a devastating impact on the everyday lives of victims.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and agents from Homeland Security Investigations for their excellent work on this case.
“It’s great to see justice brought in this case” said Chad A. Plantz, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations, San Diego. “Technology-enabled crimes and identity theft cost U.S. consumers billions of dollars every year. HSI will continue to pursue financial fraud and identity theft investigations to hold criminals accountable.”
DEFENDANTS Case Number 21CR1538-GPC
Gustavo De Avila Moreira Farinha Age: 30 Brazil
Tatiane Pereira Arantes Age: 38 Brazil
Natalia Magalhaes Rocha Age: 30 Brazil
Leonardo Trulsen De Oliveira Age: 30 Brazil
Thassya Da Silva Alves Age: 30 Brazil
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Count 1 - Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud – Title 18, U.S.C., 1349
Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison, $250,000 fine
Count 2 – Conspiracy to Launder Monetary Instruments – Title 18, U.S.C., 1956(a)(1)(A)(i), (b)(i), and 1956(h)Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison, $500,000 fine or twice the value of the monetary instruments
Counts 3-17- Aggravated Identity Theft – Title 18, U.S.C., 1028AMaximum Penalty: Mandatory minimum of two years in prison, to run consecutively to the specified felony.
Homeland Security Investigations
Updated August 29, 2022
Press Release Number: CAS22-0829-DeAvila