Prominent Ghanaian Influencer Charged For Role In Romance Scheme And Extradited From United Kingdom To The United States
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced that MARKO STASIV was sentenced to seven years in prison today by U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel for his participation in a scheme to defraud banks and check-cashing stores by cashing hundreds of thousands of dollars in unfunded payroll checks. STASIV was convicted, after a seven-day jury trial in May 2019, of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Marko Stasiv was sentenced today for his leading role in a choreographed scheme to defraud. He led a group of conspirators in bilking banks and check-cashing businesses in state after state, staying one step ahead of the law – until he was caught. Now he faces seven years in federal prison for his crimes.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “There was nothing about Marko Stasiv’s payroll scheme that was on the up and up. As one would imagine, his initial success couldn’t be sustained for long. Today’s sentencing ensures a long, well-deserved stay in prison, and this time the government will make the room arrangements.”
According to a Superseding Indictment filed December 18, 2018, other court documents, and the evidence presented at trial:
From approximately September 2016 through February 2018, the defendant and his co-conspirators engaged in a coordinated scheme to defraud check-cashing businesses and federally insured banks (the “Check Scam”). The Check Scam’s primary objective was to generate illicit profit for its participants by deceiving check-cashing businesses and banks into honoring ostensible payroll checks for which insufficient funds were available to cover the face-value of the checks. The Check Scam involved building trust and confidence with check-cashing businesses and banks through a purportedly legitimate course of dealings before taking advantage of that trust and confidence to stage intentional, coordinated overdrafts. This included the use of fraudulently obtained identity documents, sham companies, and interstate wires.
As part of the scheme, the conspirators incorporated multiple sham companies (the “Sham Companies”) in multiple states, and then opened bank accounts in the names of those sham companies (the “Sham Bank Accounts”). The individuals opening the Sham Bank Accounts often did so by using legitimate state identification cards (“State IDs”), obtained under false pretenses. Upon opening the Sham Bank Accounts, members of the Scheme would obtain and print payroll checks, issued by a Sham Company and issued to a member of the Scheme (a “Check Casher”), who posed as an employee of the Sham Company. Over the course of several weeks, the Check Cashers cashed multiple payroll checks, of gradually increasing values, at multiple check-cashing stores in the state of the Sham Company’s incorporation. Members of the Scheme would then immediately redeposit these funds into the Sham Bank Account, so that the checks would clear. In doing so, the Check Cashers developed credibility with the check-cashing stores. In each state, the Check Scam would culminate during a final week (the “Bomb Week”). During the Bomb Week, the Check Cashers would cash high-value checks at as many check-cashing stores as possible. However, during the Bomb Week, the conspirators would not redeposit these funds into the Sham Bank Account, and would instead divide the proceeds among themselves. By the time the checks bounced, the conspirators had moved on to the next state, where they executed the Check Scam again, using a new Sham Company and Sham Bank Account.
The defendant was one of the Check Scam’s leaders. Among other things, he recruited Check Cashers; helped Check Cashers obtain State IDs and open Sham Bank Accounts under false pretenses; distributed payroll checks to the Check Cashers; drove the Check Cashers to various check-cashing stores; instructed Check Cashers on how to execute the Check Scam; and collected and redistributed the proceeds of the Check Scam. The defendant and his conspirators executed or planned to execute the Check Scam in various locations throughout the United States, including in and around New York City, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, and California.
As a way to keep overhead costs lower while executing the Check Scam in various states, the conspirators obtained hotel rooms, unlawfully and without authorization, by using the names and hotel loyalty program accounts of real persons who were neither part of nor aware of the Check Scam (the “Hotel Scam”). The defendant personally executed the Hotel Scam with the assistance of at least two associates in Ukraine, who helped arrange dozens of days-long hotel stays for the Check Scam’s participants at various locations by unlawfully accessing victims’ hotel rewards points, and using them to book hotel rooms listing the defendant and other conspirators as authorized guests.
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In addition to the prison term, Judge Castel sentenced STASIV to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $548,178.70, forfeiture in the amount of $122,424.92, and a $100 special assessment.
Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of the FBI and its Eurasian Organized Crime Squad. He also thanked the New York City Police Department and United States Customs and Border Protection for their assistance in the matter.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan Rebold is in charge of the prosecution.
Jim Margolin, Nicholas Biase