WASHINGTON, D.C. — While U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s appearance on April 9 before the House Appropriations Committee was permeated by questions on when he would submit the report of Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia to Congress, India also figured for a few minutes during his testimony that was essentially slated to discuss the Department of Justice’s budget for the new fiscal year.
Saying that the Justice Department was laser focused on criminal enterprises that prey on the elders in America, Barr said a significant number of criminal organizations responsible for such massive fraud against the vulnerable, are based in India.
Consequently, he told lawmakers that in order to combat these scammers, which he described as the “sleeping giant” of frauds, he had set up a strike force to go after these organizations ostensibly claiming to be tech support centers that harass the elderly in the U.S. saying they are calling from the Internal Revenue Service and threaten imprisonment if overdue income tax payments are not immediately settled.
While acknowledging that “a lot of these scams (that target the elderly) are perpetrated wholly within the United States,” Barr said that “increasingly they are actually operated by international criminal organizations, (and)a lot of them come out of India.”
He recalled that when he held the post of attorney general in a previous incarnation in the first term of the George H.W. Bush administration it was healthcare fraud that was the “sleeping giant,” that he had focused on, but now in his second go-around in the Trump administration, fraud against the elderly that is “the major area of criminality that has mushroomed,” that was the “sleeping giant” that he was zeroing in on.
Questions regard these scams against the elderly, were posed to Barr by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee, who raised concerns about this segment of the population who apparently were easy prey for these predators, who Barr bemoaned were without “a runway to recover when they lose their life’s savings.
“I have set up a strike force to go after the large criminal organizations that we think are behind this,” he said.
In July 2018, Barr’s predecessor Jeff Sessions had announced the sentencing of 21 members of a massive India-based fraud and money laundering conspiracy that defrauded thousands of Americans, the majority of whom were the elderly, of hundreds of millions of dollars, through a sophisticated “TelefraudScam” from five call centers in Ahmedabad.
Sessions said at the time that “the stiff sentences imposed this week represent the culmination of the first-ever large scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry.”
He said, “This case represents one of the most significant victories to date in our continuing efforts to combat elder fraud and the victimization of the most vulnerable members of the U.S. public. The transnational criminal ring of fraudsters and money launderers who conspired to bilk older Americans, legal immigrants and many others out of their life savings through their lies, threats and financial schemes must recognize that all resources at the Department’s disposal will be deployed to shut down these telefraud schemes, put those responsible in jail, and bring a measure of justice to the victims.”
Miteshkumar Patel, 42, of Illinois, was sentenced to serve 240 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release on the charge of money laundering conspiracy. According to the factual basis of his plea agreement, Patel served as the manager of a Chicago-based crew of “runners” that liquidated and laundered fraud proceeds generated by callers at India-based call centers. Those callers used call scripts and lead lists to target victims throughout the United States with telefraud schemes in which the callers impersonated U.S. government employees from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The callers duped victims into believing that they owed money to the U.S. government and would be arrested or deported if they did not pay immediately. After the victims transferred money to the callers, a network of U.S.-based runners moved expeditiously to liquidate and launder fraud proceeds through the use of anonymous stored value cards. In addition to recruiting, training, and tasking runners in his crew, Patel also coordinated directly with the Indian side of the conspiracy about the operation of the scheme. Patel was held accountable for laundering between $9.5 and $25 million for the scheme. The Hindustan Times reported that in the wake of Barr’s remarks, Rajeev Ranjan, an additional commissioner with the Delhi Police’s crime branch, had said that the “existence of more such rackets in Delhi cannot be denied.
“Even a school dropout can do it. All they have to do is pick up a U.S. accent and be able to deliver a few sentences in English to convince the Americans that they are from the same country,” he said.
Ranjan had said most such crimes go undetected as the victims don’t even realize they are being cheated by people sitting in India. “The victims have no wherewithal to pursue the case. Since the money cheated from them is usually small ($25-100), even their local police do not pursue it.”
However, he had noted that the suspects arrested in Delhi in the recent past did not particularly target the elderly. “They had no way to know the age group of the victims. They targeted anyone seeking technical surveillance.”