Fifteen individuals were arrested today in South Africa, Canada, California, Wisconsin and Indiana, pursuant to an eight-count federal indictment on fraud charges filed in the Southern District of Mississippi. A total of 19 individuals were arrested across the United States and internationally on charges brought by federal prosecutors in Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia.
Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O’Neil of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis for the Southern District of Mississippi, Raymond Parmer Jr., Special Agent in Charge of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New Orleans and Robert Wemyss, U.S. Postal Inspection Service Inspector in Charge made the announcement.
Another individual was arrested today in New York on a related Southern District of Mississippi complaint. Three defendants in South Carolina were arrested in Charleston, pursuant to a nine-count indictment, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia has filed related criminal complaints in Atlanta against two additional defendants. All of the indictments and complaints were unsealed yesterday.
The indictments allege the involvement of a West African transnational organized crime enterprise engaged in numerous complex financial fraud schemes over the internet. This mass marketing fraud includes romance scams, re-shipping scams, fraudulent check scams and work-at-home scams, along with bank, financial and credit card account take-overs.
The investigation was initiated in October 2011, by HSI agents in Gulfport, Mississippi, after U.S. law enforcement officers were contacted by a female victim who was the victim of a sweetheart scam. The victim received a package in the mail requesting that she reship the merchandise to an address in Pretoria, South Africa. The investigation later revealed that the merchandise was purchased using stolen personal identity information and fraudulent credit card information of persons in the United States. Investigators have identified hundreds of victims of this scam in the United States, resulting in the loss of millions of U.S. dollars.
Today’s arrests were the result of an investigation led by the HSI Gulfport office in partnership with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, South African Police Service, Toronto Police, HSI Cyber Crimes Center, Treasury Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture, HSI Ontario, HSI Charleston, Interpol South Africa, HSI Pretoria and HSI Atlanta.
The Department of Justice Office of International Affairs assisted in the provisional arrests of ten defendants in Pretoria, South Africa. Another defendant was arrested in Toronto, Canada, and the remaining defendants were arrested in the United States.
The case in Mississippi will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annette Williams and Scott Gilbert, and will be scheduled for trial after extradition of the defendants to Mississippi. The South Carolina prosecution will be handled by Department of Justice Organized Crime and Gang Section trial attorneys Leshia Lee-Dixon and Robert Tully. The Georgia cases will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Shanya J. Dingle of the Northern District of Georgia.
An indictment is a formal charge against a defendant. Under the law, an indictment is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.