Miami Man Sentenced to More Than 5 Years in Prison for Role as Money Mule and Mule Recruiter in International Cybercrime Money Laundering Network
Yamel Guevara Tamayo, 36, of Miami, was sentenced Friday, December 20, 2019 to 63 months in prison for his role in serving as a money mule, and recruiter of more than 15 additional money mules, in an international money laundering operation for business email compromise (BEC) and other cyber-schemes.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Brian Swain, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.
Tamayo previously pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro to conspiracy to commit money laundering. In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro ordered Tamayo to serve three years of supervised release and pay $700,474.97 in restitution.
According to the court record, from November 2016 through June 2019, Tamayo, together with co-conspirators Roda Taher a/k/a “Rezi,” and others participated in a scheme to help steal more than $1.5 million dollars from individual and corporate victims, which proceeds were later laundered. The scheme involved recruiting “money mules,” including Tamayo, who allowed their respective names and personal identifying information to be used by co-conspirators to incorporate a sham business through the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations, under such mule’s name. As part of the scheme, a mule would then open bank accounts at multiple banks in the name of his or her shell company. Several mules, including Tamayo, later recruited and managed new money mules. To date, more than 200 money mules and money mule recruiters have been identified as part of this international money laundering network.
A related cyberattack aspect of the scheme involved the creation, by co-conspirators, of email addresses that mimicked, but differed slightly from, legitimate email addresses of supervisory employees at various companies. The conspirators used these deceptive email addresses to send emails that appeared to be requests for payment of legitimate invoices or debts owed by the victims. The victims were deceived into transferring funds by wire into the bank accounts opened by the money mules and controlled by Tamayo and the co-conspirators. After the victims complied with the fraudulent wiring instructions, Tamayo, under the direction of other conspirators, quickly debited thousands of dollars from the accounts through in-person withdrawals, ATM withdrawals, and debit card purchases. Tamayo and co-conspirators also rapidly transferred victims’ funds to foreign bank accounts that co-conspirators controlled as soon as the funds came in. Tamayo and other co-conspirators kept a fraction of the proceeds as payment after doing so.
Tamayo’s role expanded over time. He ultimately recruited more than fifteen individuals to participate as mules in the money laundering scheme, serving as their manager and directing them to open new accounts. His involvement in the scheme lasted until in or around June 2019. In total, Tamayo and his mules intended to launder more than $1.4 million dollars, and succeeded in laundering more than $700,000 before banks were able to freeze and claw back some of the funds due to suspected fraud.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and USSS in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa H. Miller.
In related cases in this District, more than thirty members of the money laundering network have been prosecuted and convicted. See United States v. Roda Taher, et al., 17-cr-60223-UU; United States v. Luis Pujols, et al., 17-cr-20702-JEM; United States v. Cynthia Rodriguez, et al., 17-cr-20748-JEM; United States v. Eliot Pereira, et al., 18-cr-20170-MGC; and United States v. Gustavo Gomez, et al., 18-CR-20415-UU; and United States v. Alfredo Veloso, et al., 18-20759-CR-KMW. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dwayne E. Williams and Lisa H. Miller prosecuted those cases.
The Justice Department’s efforts to confront the growing threat of cyber-enabled financial fraud led to the formation of the BEC Counteraction Group (BCG), which assists U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Department with the coordination of BEC cases and the centralization of related expertise. The BCG facilitates communication and coordination between federal prosecutors, serves as a bridge between federal prosecutors and federal agents, centralizes and manages institutional knowledge and training, and participates in efforts to educate the public about protecting themselves and their organizations from BEC scams.
The BCG draws upon the expertise of the following sections within the Department’s Criminal Division: the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, which regularly investigates and prosecutes cases involving computer crimes, including network intrusions; the Fraud Section, which manages complex litigation involving sophisticated fraud schemes; the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, which brings experience in seizing assets obtained through criminal activity; the Office of International Affairs, which plays a central role in securing international evidence and extradition; and the Organized Crime and Gang Section, which contributes strategic guidance in prosecuting complex transnational criminal cases.
This case was part of the Department of Justice’s Operation reWired, which followed “Operation Wire Wire,” the first coordinated enforcement action targeting hundreds of BEC scammers. That effort, announced in June 2018, resulted in the arrest of 74 individuals, the seizure of nearly $2.4 million, and the disruption and recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.
Victims are encouraged to file a complaint online with the IC3 at bec.ic3.gov. The IC3 staff reviews complaints, looking for patterns or other indicators of significant criminal activity, and refers investigative packages of complaints to the appropriate law enforcement authorities in a particular city or region. The FBI provides a variety of resources relating to BEC through the IC3, which can be reached at www.ic3.gov. For more information on BEC scams, visit: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2019/190910.aspx.