Ringleader sent to prison in nationwide fraud scheme targeting elderly victims
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas
HOUSTON – The leader in a conspiracy to commit mail fraud has been ordered to federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
MD Azad, 26, an Indian national who illegally resided in Houston, pleaded guilty Aug. 15, 2022, admitting he participated in a fraud ring from 2019-2020 which operated out of various cities including Houston.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt has now ordered Azad to serve 188 months in federal prison. Azad, a citizen of India, is expected to face removal proceedings following the prison term. At the hearing, the court heard additional evidence that described Azad as the U.S.-based ringleader working with a call center in India. In handing down the sentence, the court noted the many letters and victim impact statements it had read showing the financial devastation to elderly and vulnerable victims throughout the United States because of this fraud scheme.
“The victims in this case were devastated, financially and otherwise,” said Hamdani. “This fraud ring repeatedly preyed on elderly and vulnerable people in the United States who spoke of threats of bodily harm if they did not comply with demands for more money. Our hope, and that of many of the victims, is deterrence so as to stop others who would think of doing similar harm in our community and beyond.”
The scheme targeted elderly victims throughout the United States and elsewhere.
The ring tricked and deceived victims using various ruses and instructed them to send money via wire through a money transmitter business such as Western Union or MoneyGram, by buying gift cards and providing to the fraudsters or by mailing cash to alias names via FedEx or UPS.
Part of the scheme involved fraudsters contacting victims by phone or via internet sites for computer technical support and directing victims to a particular phone number. Once victims contacted the fraudsters, they were told various stories such as they were communicating with an expert that needed remote access to their computer in order to provide technical support services. The fraudsters then gained access to victims’ personal data and bank and credit card information.
Victims typically paid a fee to conspirators for the fake technical support but were later told they were due a refund. Through paying for “technical support” or through the “refund” process, the ring gained access to the victim’s bank account(s) and credit cards and manipulated the accounts to make it appear the victim was paid too large a refund due to a typographical error. Victims were then instructed to reimburse the ring by various means.
Victims were sometimes re-victimized multiple times and threatened with bodily harm if they did not pay.
Indian citizen Anirudha Kalkote, 26, also pleaded guilty in relation to the conspiracy as did Sumit Kumar Singh, 26, Himanshu Kumar, 26, and MD Hasib, 27, all also Indian nationals who illegally resided in Houston. They are pending sentencing.
All five individuals will remain in custody.
The FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and IRS Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States including the Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office of Augusta County, Virginia. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Belinda Beek and Quincy Ollison prosecuted the case.
The case is brought as a part of the Elder Justice Initiative. Its goal is to support and coordinate the Department’s enforcement and programmatic efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams that target our nation’s older adults.
In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice launched National Elder Fraud Hotline to help combat fraud against older Americans and provide services to victims. If you or someone you know is a victim of elder fraud, we encourage you to call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833–FRAUD–11 (833–372–8311).
The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern time. Services are available for speakers of English, Spanish and other languages.
Updated August 11, 2023