Co-Founder Of Global Multimillion-Dollar Cryptocurrency Ponzi Scheme “AirBit Club” Sentenced To 12 Years In Prison
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that SINA MOAYEDI, the owner of a construction company, Montage, Inc., pled guilty today to a 25-year fraud on the United States Government. MOAYEDI pled guilty to three counts: conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official, and aggravated identity theft. Under the terms of his plea agreement, MOAYEDI also admitted to obstructing justice by, among other things, deleting electronic evidence of his fraud shortly after his release on bail in this case, which resulted in his pretrial detention. MOAYEDI pled guilty before United States District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, to whom MOAYEDI’s case is assigned.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “From 1995 until 2021, Sina Moayedi defrauded the U.S. Government and various of its agencies by lying in various respects. Moayedi lied that his construction company was woman-owned; he lied about his employees’ qualifications; he lied about his company’s construction experience; and he lied about his company’s financial condition. He also repeatedly paid bribes to a State Department employee to illegally obtain inside information to help Moayedi’s company win government contracts. His frauds netted his company at least 27 lucrative government construction contracts, including contracts to build sensitive U.S. embassies and consulates. And following his arrest in this case, Moayedi obstructed justice by destroying electronic evidence of his frauds less than one month after his release on bail. Moayedi now faces the consequences of his quarter-century fraud on the federal government, which harmed the government, taxpayers, and his competitors.”
According to the filings and statements made in Manhattan federal court:
In the 1980s, MOAYEDI founded Montage, Inc. (“Montage”), a U.S.-based business that is primarily involved in worldwide Government construction projects, including embassies, military posts, consulates, and similar overseas properties owned and operated by the United States Government. In total, the U.S. Government has paid Montage more than $200 million on government contracts. Since 2014, Montage appears to have focused primarily on competing for and obtaining contracts with the State Department. During that period, the State Department awarded Montage approximately six overseas U.S. Embassy/Consulate construction project contracts totaling $100 million.
MOAYEDI defrauded the U.S. Government — including the State Department, Treasury Department, Department of Defense, and General Services Administration — by lying in various respects. In submissions to the Government (i.e., bids for contracting work), MOAYEDI mispresented his company’s ownership, his employees’ qualifications, his company’s construction experience, and his company’s financial condition.
As to ownership, MOAYEDI falsely represented, repeatedly, that Montage was a female-owned business (or a female- and minority-owned business) in order to secure unmerited advantages in the bidding process. In fact, MOAYEDI founded, owned, ran, and controlled Montage, and he made all material decisions on Montage’s behalf. As MOAYEDI revealed to a bank that inquired about Montage’s ownership status in 2016, “I am the sole owner and president of Montage and have always been.”
As to employees’ qualifications, MOAYEDI significantly overstated the qualifications of various Montage employees in order to, among other things, meet State Department and contractual requirements for minimum experience in certain key positions. For instance, MOAYEDI claimed, falsely, that certain Montage employees possessed engineering degrees, and he claimed, falsely, that certain individuals worked for Montage when, in fact, they did not.
As to Montage’s construction experience, MOAYEDI submitted bids to the Government in which he repeatedly falsified Montage’s purported construction experience in order to burnish its alleged credentials. To ensure that the U.S. Government did not uncover these lies, MOAYEDI “backstopped” these fabricated prior projects by creating fraudulent email accounts and personas, so that someone else appeared to be “vouching” that Montage had performed this prior work. This required creating online web domains (the “Fabricated Domains”), so that Montage’s purported references appeared legitimate. These Fabricated Domains were extremely similar to, but one character or word different from, the legitimate web domain associated with the actual entity. MOAYEDI purchased the necessary online infrastructure to create these Fabricated Domains.
As to financial condition, MOAYEDI paid a Certified Public Accountant to prepare at least four different sets of books and records, each of which was provided to a different recipient (e.g., one fraudulent set for the U.S. Government, another fraudulent set for the bank, another fraudulent set for a company that sold construction bonds, etc.).
In furtherance of his fraud on the U.S. Government, MOAYEDI also used the identities of at least 10 individuals, including some of his relatives.
In addition, between 2014 and 2020, MOAYEDI repeatedly paid cash bribes and kickbacks to an engineer in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations division, May Salehi, in exchange for confidential inside information relating to several State Department construction projects, including projects in Ecuador, Spain, and Bermuda. For instance, in late 2016 and early 2017, MOAYEDI paid approximately $60,000 in cash to Salehi after Salehi provided confidential inside bidding information to MOAYEDI about the relationship between Montage’s original bid and his competitors’ bids — information that allowed Montage to raise its bid by nearly $1 million yet remain the lowest bidder on a construction project that was ultimately awarded to Montage.
MOAYEDI also defrauded his primary bank (“Bank-1”) through various misrepresentations. MOAYEDI and Montage had a multi-million-dollar line of credit at Bank-1, which they maintained through misrepresentations about Montage’s ownership and the value, progress, status, and existence of construction projects that Montage was performing for the United States Government. For instance, in or about both 2014 and 2019, MOAYEDI made material misrepresentations to Bank-1 in support of an annual extension of Montage’s line of credit, including misrepresentations about purportedly lucrative “classified” government construction projects which, in fact, did not exist.
MOAYEDI also obstructed justice in multiple respects. These include: (i) in September 2021, shortly after his release on bail in this case, MOAYEDI destroyed electronic evidence of his fraud on the U.S. Government by deleting at least seven Fabricated Domains, which (as noted) he had used to help inflate Montage’s purported construction experience in bids for U.S. Government construction projects; (ii) shortly after the execution of search warrants at Montage’s offices in September 2020, MOAYEDI attempted to witness tamper by, among other things, pressuring a co-conspirator to lie in order to impede the Government’s ongoing criminal investigation; and (iii) during a civil lawsuit between the State Department and Montage, MOAYEDI lied during a sworn deposition in 2019 by claiming to be the Vice President of Montage and by falsely claiming that a Hispanic woman had been the President of Montage “ever since” 2002.
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MOAYEDI, 67, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, pled guilty to three counts: one count of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory prison term of two years, which must run consecutively to any other prison term.
The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as MOAYEDI’s sentence will be determined by Judge Rakoff.
MOAYEDI is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Rakoff on August 10, 2023, at 4:00 p.m. Under the terms of his plea agreement, MOAYEDI also agreed to pay restitution of $6,588,679.63 and forfeiture of $17,795,098.50.
May Salehi was previously sentenced to one year in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $500,000, and forfeiture of $60,000.
Mr. Williams praised the exceptional investigative work of the State Department, Office of Inspector General; Special Agents from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York; and the Internal Revenue Service.
The Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit is handling this criminal case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Neff and Louis A. Pellegrino are in charge of the prosecution.