Houston, Texas - An Indian national pleaded guilty Thursday in the Southern District of Texas for his role in operating and funding India-based call centers whose callers, and U.S.-based conspirators, defrauded U.S. victims out of millions of dollars between 2013 and 2016.
Hitesh Madhubhai Patel, also known as Hitesh Hinglaj, 43, of Ahmedabad, India, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and general conspiracy to commit identification fraud, access device fraud, money laundering, and impersonation of a federal officer or employee.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas, Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa D. Erichs of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Inspector General J. Russell George of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) made the announcement Thursday.
"Hitesh Patel played a prominent role in this massive, India-based fraud scheme that bilked vulnerable Americans out of millions of dollars," said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. "This important resolution would not have occurred without the assistance of our Singaporean colleagues, to whom we extend our deep appreciation."
According to admissions that he made as part of his plea, 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 to the scammers 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, deposit slips, payment information, call center operations information and instructions, and bank account information. The scripts included IRS impersonation, USCIS impersonation, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) impersonation, Australian Tax Office (ATO) impersonation, payday loan fraud, U.S. Government grant fraud, and debt collection fraud.
Patel also received monthly income and expense reports to his personal email from the call centers, and used his Indian cell phone number to access GPR cards through automated telephone systems on many occasions.
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.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas accepted the plea today and set sentencing for April 3, 2020. At that time, Patel faces up to 20 years in prison for the wire fraud conspiracy and five years for the general conspiracy. Both counts also carry the possibility of a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
A total of 24 domestic defendants associated with this transnational criminal scheme have previously been 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 conducted the investigation. The Department of Justice’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.
Trial Attorney Mona Sahaf of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Amanda 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 are prosecuting the case.
A Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to 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.