ATLANTA, Ga. (CW44 News At 10)– Vikas Mehta, Walter Valdivia, Pradip Parikh, Jaime Salas, Alpesh Patel, and Darash Shah have been indicted for wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and money laundering.
"This case involves an alleged scheme to defraud victims — many of whom are elderly — out of their hard-earned savings," said U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. "It is a particularly egregious type of fraud that is becoming an all-too-common occurrence. It involves dishonest individuals around the world, including in the United States, scaring good people with lies and then cheating them out of their money."
"These indictments send a solid message that my office will continue to pursue perpetrators of these vicious Social Security-related imposter scams designed to target and harm vulnerable people, including the elderly," said Gail S. Ennis, Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. "I thank the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration criminal investigators for their significant efforts; additionally, I thank the many law enforcement agencies for their substantial contributions to this major investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecuting this case."
According to U.S. Attorney Erskine, the charges and other information presented in court: The defendants allegedly participated in a conspiracy to defraud victims in the United States, many of whom are elderly. The conspiracy began with either robocall recordings purporting to be from a government agency or with emails purporting to be from legitimate companies. The robocall recordings and email messages provided callback numbers. When individuals called those numbers, they were connected to alleged scammers — some of whom were located in India. During these telephone calls, the scammer pretended either to work for the United States government or to represent a company.
When the scammer pretended to work for a government agency, the scammer would tell the victim that they were in some type of trouble. Oftentimes, they pretended to be a Social Security Administration employee, claiming that the victim's Social Security Number was compromised in some way. The scammer would then tell the victim that they needed to pay money immediately, or, if they did not, they would be arrested. The scammer sometimes used actual Social Security Administration employees' names to appear legitimate.
In those instances when the scammer claimed to work for a legitimate company, they reported that the victim was entitled to a company refund. The scammer often convinced the victim to download computer software that, unbeknownst to the victim, allowed the scammer to remotely access the computer. From there, the scammer manipulated the victim's bank accounts to make it appear that, when attempting to refund the victim his or her money, the scammer "accidentally" refunded too much, and thus, the victim now owed a "debt" to the company. If the victim did not pay back this perceived debt, they would face certain consequences.
Once the scammer on the telephone scared the victims, the scammer would instruct the victim on how to pay money. Sometimes the scammer directed the victim to withdraw cash, package the cash in shipping boxes, and deliver the package as instructed. Other times, the individual on the phone would tell the victim to obtain gift cards and provide the redemption code on the back of the card. Oftentimes, the individual on the phone would tell the victim to wire money to a particular bank account; withdraw their money for cashier's checks made payable to a specific company; or deposit cash directly into a specific company's bank account.
To effect the alleged wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy, the named defendants — all of whom reside in the United States — allegedly created companies with various Secretaries of State offices and then opened bank accounts in the company's names. These companies, however, did little to no legitimate business. Instead, their purpose was to receive and transfer victim funds. And it was into these bank accounts that the scammer on the phone instructed the victim to deposit their money.
Once the defendants had received the victims' money, they allegedly laundered the fraud proceeds through their various accounts. The defendants and their companies are listed below:
- Vikas Mehta, 48, of Cliffside Park, New Jersey, created two companies: Snoopy Trust LLC and MVJ Holdings LLC.
- Walter Valdivia, 69, of Boca Raton, Florida, created Achieve Capital Group LLC and ACG Accounts Inc.
- Pradip Parikh, 63, of Valley Stream, New York, formed JDM Management Inc.
- Jaime Salas, 27, of Acworth, Georgia, formed Salas Construction LLC.
- Alpesh Patel, 37 of Louisa, Virginia, created Seven Points Agency LLC.
- Darash Shah, 22 of Boston, Massachusetts, formed Turtle Dove Holdings LLC.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government's burden to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Elizabeth McBath is prosecuting this case.
The Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA OIG) is investigating the case, with the assistance of: Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in Atlanta, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Virginia; U.S. Secret Service agents in Cleveland and Headquarters; Department of Homeland Security agents in Miami; and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration agents in Chicago.
The U.S. Attorney's Office and SSA-OIG would like to thank the following law enforcement agencies for their work in this case:
- Wood-Ridge Police Department (New Jersey);
- Lincoln Police Department (Lincoln, Nebraska);
- Conway Police Department (Conway, New Hampshire);
- Loveland Police Department (Loveland, Colorado);
- Stockton Police Department (Stockton, California);
- Ferndale Police Department (Ferndale, Michigan);
- City of Maplewood Police Department (Maplewood, Minnesota);
- Stafford County Sheriff's Office (Stafford, Virginia);
- Pennington County Sheriff's Office (Rapid City, South Dakota);
- New York Police Department (NYPD) (New York City, New York);
- Nassau County Police Department (Garden City, New York);
- Lake County Sheriff's Office (Tavares, Florida);
- Polk County Sheriff's Office (Benton, Tennessee);
- Smyrna Police Department (Smyrna, Georgia);
- Conway Police Department (Conway, Arkansas);
- Polk County Sheriff's Office (Des Moines, Iowa);
- Columbus Police Department (Columbus, Ohio);
- Cobb County Sheriff's Office (Marietta, Georgia);
- North Richland Hills Police Department (North Richland, Texas); &
- New Jersey Probation Division (Bergen County, New Jersey).
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia is part of the Department of Justice Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force. The Strike Force focuses on investigating and prosecuting defendants associated with fraud schemes that disproportionately affect American seniors. These include phone scams and computer-takeover scams.
The public should exercise caution with any caller who claims to be a government employee. Government agencies will never threaten you with immediate arrest or other legal action if you do not send cash, retail gift cards, prepaid debit cards, wire transfers, or Internet currency. They will also never demand secrecy from you in resolving a debt or any other problem. If you need to send a payment to the Social Security Administration, the agency will send a letter with payment options and appeal rights. If you or someone you know is age 65 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).
The public is reminded that gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. If a stranger purporting to be a legitimate company or government agency demands payment with a gift card, hang up or ignore the message. Anyone who demands payment by gift card is a scammer. Scammers use this method of payment because it is difficult to trace. Once you buy the gift card, scammers typically demand the number on the back of the gift card. That number lets the scammer immediately steal the money loaded onto the card. For more information, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/paying-scammers-gift-cards.
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