An Indian national on Monday was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the Southern District of Texas for operating and funding India-based call centers that defrauded US victims out of millions of dollars between 2013 and 2016.

Hitesh Madhubhai Patel (aka Hitesh Hinglaj), who hails from the city of Ahmedabad, India, was sentenced in connection with charges of fraud and money laundering.

He was also ordered to pay restitution of $8,970,396 to identified victims of his crimes.

Earlier this January, Patel 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.

"The defendant defrauded vulnerable US 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 in a statement.

The "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 US judicial system."

The first-ever large-scale, multi-jurisdictional investigation targeting the India call center scam industry saw the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) charging Patel and 60 co-conspirators for orchestrating a "complex scheme" that involved employees based out of call centers in Ahmedabad masquerading as officials from the IRS and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Besides impersonation, the call center employees were found to engage in telephone call scams designed to con victims by threatening them with arrest, imprisonment, fines, or deportation for failing to pay alleged money 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," the Department of Justice said. "Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of 'runners' based in the US to liquidate and launder the fraudulently obtained funds."

Patel — who was arrested in Singapore before getting extradited to the US in April last year — had previously admitted to running multiple call centers, including one named HGLOBAL, to carry out his telefraud schemes, in addition to corresponding by email and WhatsApp messages to exchange credit card numbers, telephone scam scripts, and call center operations instructions with his co-defendants.

To date, a total of 24 domestic defendants associated with the money laundering scam have previously been convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment of up to 20 years.


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