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Press Release

Sudanese Man Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court In Connection With Bank Fraud And Credit Card Fraud Schemes

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

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and David ‎Schnorbus, Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service (“DOS-DSS”), announced today that ASHRAF LAKOU pled guilty to bank fraud, credit card fraud, passport fraud, and aggravated identity theft charges in connection with orchestrating a scheme to use stolen victim identification information to make fraudulent credit card purchases and to defraud financial institutions by depositing counterfeit checks into accounts controlled by LAKOU and his co-conspirators.  Through these schemes, LAKOU and his co-conspirators attempted to defraud individuals, businesses and financial institutions out of more than $1.5 million.  LAKOU pled guilty before United States Magistrate Judge James L. Cott.   

According to the criminal Complaint, Indictment, and other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, as well as statements made at related court proceedings:

From September 2013 through July 2015, LAKOU and his co-conspirators engaged in a scheme to defraud businesses and financial institutions by obtaining checks made out to legitimate businesses, opening fraudulent bank accounts in the names of the victim businesses, depositing the checks into the fraudulent accounts, and withdrawing funds from the fraudulent accounts.  LAKOU and his co-conspirators carried out this scheme by, among other means, submitting false documentation in connection with bank account applications and forging the signatures of other actual persons.

From May 2014 through July 2015, LAKOU and his co-conspirators also engaged in a scheme to commit credit card fraud by using stolen credit card information to make fraudulent purchases of jewelry and other merchandise.  LAKOU and his co-conspirators carried out this credit card fraud scheme by, among other means, fraudulently adding their own names as authorized users of preexisting victim credit cards and by submitting fraudulent applications for new credit card accounts in the names of their victims.

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 LAKOU, 27, of Manhattan, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of seven-and-a-half years in prison; one count of passport fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; and three counts of aggravated identity theft, each of which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.  The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant would be determined by the judge.  As part of his plea, LAKOU agreed to pay $557,894.50 in restitution to victims and to pay $557,894.50 in forfeiture.  Lakou is scheduled to be sentenced at a future date by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero. 

Zoheb Qamran, 28, of Manhattan, and Jessica Hattar, 26, of Manhattan, have been separately charged in connection with the bank fraud and credit card fraud schemes.  The charges against Qamran and Hattar are merely allegations, and they are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding efforts of DOS-DDS in the investigation.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan Cohen is in charge of the prosecution.

Updated April 12, 2016

Topic
Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 16-080