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Owner and operator of India-based call centers sentenced to prison for scamming US victims out of millions of dollars

Department of Justice. (Scott "Skippy"/Flickr)
December 05, 2020

This article was originally published by the Department of Justice. 

An Indian national was sentenced today to 20 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release in the Southern District of Texas for his role in operating and funding India-based call centers that defrauded U.S. victims out of millions of dollars between 2013 and 2016.

Hitesh Madhubhai Patel, aka Hitesh Hinglaj, 44, of Ahmedabad, India, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David Hittner for the charges of wire fraud conspiracy and general conspiracy to commit identification fraud, access device fraud, money laundering, and impersonation of a federal officer or employee.  Patel was also ordered to pay restitution of $8, 970,396 to identified victims of his crimes.

“The defendant defrauded vulnerable U.S. victims out of tens of millions of dollars by spearheading a conspiracy whose members boldly impersonated federal government officials and preyed on victims’ fears of adverse government action,” said Acting Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “Today’s sentence demonstrates the department’s commitment to prosecuting high-level perpetrators of such nefarious schemes.  Even fraudsters operating scams from beyond our borders are not beyond the reach of the U.S. judicial system.”

“The long arm of federal law enforcement was key to bringing this con artist to justice,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas.  “Transnational call center scams are complex cases to investigate and prosecute but our agencies are up to the task.  Many of these fraudsters prey on the most vulnerable from the perceived safety of foreign lands so there is no sorry in seeing him head to prison.  His access to a phone is now greatly diminished. Across the globe, U.S. law enforcement is chasing and dismantling these schemes.”

“For years, this individual preyed on the fears of his victims to perpetuate a global scheme to manipulate U.S. institutions and taxpayers,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark B. Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston. “Working with our law enforcement partners around the globe we have successfully executed the first ever large-scale, multi-jurisdictional investigation and prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry to hold him accountable for his illegal acts and deter similar scams in the future.”

“Since 2013, American taxpayers have been subjected to unprecedented attempts to fraudulently obtain money by individuals utilizing Indian call centers to impersonate IRS employees and scam American taxpayers,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).  “We appreciate the support of our law enforcement partners.”

“The sentence imposed today provides a clear deterrent to those who would seek to enrich themselves by extorting the most vulnerable in our society through these types of scams,” said Special Agent in Charge David Green of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG).  “These foreign call center operators and their U.S. based affiliates should know that their actions carry real life consequences, both for their victims and for themselves, and that there are dedicated agents and prosecutors who will work tirelessly to identify them, find them and hold them accountable for their crimes.”

According to admissions in his plea agreement, Patel and his co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme in which employees from call centers in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and engaged in other telephone call scams designed to defraud victims throughout the United States.  U.S. victims were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay alleged monies owed to the government.  Those who fell victim were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing general purpose reloadable (GPR) cards or wiring money.  Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the United States to liquidate and launder the fraudulently obtained funds.

In his plea, Patel admitted to operating and funding several India-based call centers from which the fraud schemes were perpetrated, including the call center HGLOBAL.  Patel corresponded by email and WhatsApp messaging frequently with his co-defendants to exchange credit card numbers, telephone scam scripts, and call center operations instructions.  The scripts included IRS impersonation, USCIS impersonation, Canada Revenue Agency impersonation, Australian Tax Office impersonation, payday loan fraud, U.S. Government grant fraud, and debt collection fraud.

A co-defendant described Patel as “the top person in India and the boss for whom most of the other defendants worked,” and the owner of multiple call centers.  Another co-defendant stated that Patel was arrested in India in 2016, but then paid a bribe and was released.  Additionally, Patel admitted that a reasonably foreseeable loss of more than $25 million but less than $65 million was attributable to him, based on the government’s evidence against him.

Patel was prosecuted in the United States after being extradited from Singapore in April 2019 to face charges in this large-scale telefraud and money laundering scheme.  Singapore authorities apprehended Patel at the request of the United States pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant in September 2018, after Patel flew there from India.

The indictment in this case, which was unsealed in October 2016, charged Patel and 60 other individuals and entities with general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.  A total of 24 domestic defendants associated with this transnational criminal scheme were previously convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment of up to 20 years in the Southern District of Texas, District of Arizona and Northern District of Georgia.  The defendants were also ordered to pay millions of dollars in victim restitution and money judgments and to forfeit seized assets. Some defendants were ordered to be deported based on their illegal immigration status, with another defendant having his U.S. citizenship revoked due to a separate conviction for immigration fraud.  Charges remain pending for other India-based defendants.  They are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

HSI, DHS-OIG and TIGTA led the investigation of this case.  The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and HSI Singapore provided significant support in securing and coordinating Patel’s arrest and extradition, working in concert with their counterparts at the Singapore Attorney General’s-Chambers and the Singapore Police Force.

Also providing significant support during the course of the investigation and prosecutions related to this scheme were: the Ft. Bend, Texas, County Sheriff’s Department; the Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Police Department; the Leonia, New Jersey, Police Department; the Naperville, Illinois, Police Department; the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Family Protection/Elder Abuse Unit; the U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General; IOC-2; INTERPOL Washington; USCIS; U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Northern District of California, District of Colorado, Northern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Northern District of Georgia, Northern District of Illinois, Northern District of Indiana, Eastern District of Louisiana, District of Nevada, and the District of New Jersey.  The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau provided assistance in TIGTA’s investigation.  Additionally, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Legal and Victim Programs, provided significant support to the prosecution.

Trial Attorney Mona Sahaf of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP), former Trial Attorney Amanda S. Wick of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark McIntyre and Craig Feazel of the Southern District of Texas prosecuted the case.  Kaitlin Gonzalez of HRSP was the paralegal for this case.

Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to already identified and potential victims, and the public.  Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the FTC via this website.