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Press Release

Chief Operating Officer And Vice President Of International Cargo Airline Plead Guilty To Defrauding Their Employer

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the guilty pleas today of LARS WINKELBAUER and ABILASH KURIEN in connection with a massive scheme to defraud Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, Inc. (“Polar”), a leading cargo airline, of tens of millions of dollars in revenue.  WINKELBAUER pled guilty today to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering before U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, and KURIEN pled guilty yesterday to the same offense.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “In April 2023, this Office charged 10 defendants for their involvement in a widespread scheme that permeated nearly every facet of Polar Air Cargo Worldwide.  To date, nine individuals have pled guilty, including Lars Winkelbauer and Abilash Kurien, two top executives who have confessed today and are poised to face time in prison for their betrayal of the company’s trust and that of the wider community.  Wire fraud and money laundering are not merely financial crimes; they erode faith in institutions, undermine economic stability, and harm innocent individuals and businesses.  This Office and our partners recognize that profound impact and we will not falter in our work to uphold the rule of the law.”    

According to the allegations contained in the Indictment and statements made in public filings and in public court proceedings:

From at least in or about 2009 through in or about July 2021, WINKELBAUER, KURIEN, and at least eight other individuals participated in a massive scheme to defraud Polar.  At all relevant times, WINKELBAUER, KURIEN, and two co-defendants were senior executives of Polar (the “Executive Defendants”), and six co-defendants (the “Vendor Defendants”) owned and operated various Polar vendors and customers. 

WINKELBAUER was Polar’s Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President and is the most senior of the Executive Defendants.  KURIEN was the Vice President of Marketing, Revenue Management, and Network Planning.

The Executive Defendants agreed to accept millions of dollars in kickbacks from the Vendor Defendants and also reaped substantial financial benefits as a result of their secret ownership interests in certain Polar vendors, in exchange for ensuring that those vendors received favorable business arrangements with Polar.  The fraud they perpetrated — which involved a substantial portion of Polar’s senior management and at least 10 customers and vendors of Polar — led to pervasive corruption of Polar’s business, touching nearly every aspect of the company’s operations for over a decade. 

As a result of the scheme, the Executive Defendants, along with two co-conspirators who also worked as senior executives at Polar, received unlawful payments, either directly or through various limited liability companies they controlled, in excess of approximately $23 million in kickback payments or disbursements as a result of their ownership of conflicted companies. 

WINKELBAUER and KURIEN are the eighth and ninth defendants to plead guilty in the case thus far.

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WINKELBAUER, 48, of Bangkok, Thailand, and KURIEN, 46, of Wilton, Connecticut, each pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  WINKELBAUER agreed to pay forfeiture in the amount of $6,774,039.30 and to make restitution to Polar in the amount of $33,539,396.  KURIEN agreed to pay forfeiture in the amount of $7,192,064.41 and to make restitution to Polar in the amount of $22,956,341.  WINKELBAUER is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Furman on May 30, 2024, and KURIEN is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Furman on July 23, 2024.

The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. 

The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katherine Reilly, Danielle Kudla, Kevin Mead, and Qais Ghafary are in charge of the prosecution.


Nicholas Biase, Lauren Scarff
(212) 637-2600

Updated February 29, 2024

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 24-076