Texas Federal Judge Sentences 8 In India Call Center Scam
by Foster LLP, on News
By Michelle Casady, Law 360
A federal judge in Houston on Wednesday afternoon sentenced to prison eight individuals for their roles in a multimillion-dollar call center scam that was based in India and defrauded U.S. residents out of at least $8.9 million.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner, during a series of back-to-back sentencing hearings that lasted about two hours, gave four of the eight scammers federal prison sentences that were longer than government prosecutors had requested. At one point, Judge Hittner held up a thick stack of papers, saying it included the names of all those defrauded by the scam.
“These people have been fleeced,” he said, explaining that in some cases the fraud was as small as $450 per victim, and in at least one instance exceeded $100,000.
Sunny Joshi, Fahad Ali, Jagdishkumar Chaudhari, Dilip R. Patel, Viraj Patel, Harsh Patel, Rajeseh Bhatt and Bhavesh Patel were each given yearslong federal prison sentences Wednesday. Judge Hittner is scheduled to sentence 13 more who have entered guilty pleas in the scam at sentencing hearings Thursday and Friday.
Prosecutors, who have charged 61 people in the scheme in the U.S. and India, allege the defendants ran a network of call centers in India and had the callers pose as officials from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The targeted victims were threatened with arrest, prison, fines or deportation if they didn’t pay purported taxes or penalties to the government.
The U.S.-based scammers, according to the government, would help their Indian co-conspirators by liquidating and laundering the funds extorted from the victims. The defendants in the scheme were data brokers, call center operators, payment processors, runners and managers.
The harshest sentence, of 13 years and nine months, was handed to Viraj Patel. His attorney, Cornel A. Williams of Williams and Associates, had asked the court for leniency in sentencing, citing his client’s cooperation with the government. He also argued Patel was a small cog in the machinery of the massive fraud. Williams claimed his client, along with the others sentenced Wednesday, was “low-hanging fruit,” and argued that the true scammers were still in India, and still perpetuating the fraud.
Prosecutor Michael Scheckels told the court that just wasn’t the case, and that unlike most others sentenced Wednesday, Viraj Patel was “on the front end of the fraud.” He supervised a call center in India, Scheckels said, then traveled to the United States, where he continued to perpetrate the scam.
The government had asked the court to sentence Viraj Patel to 12 years and one month in prison.
Joshi was sentenced to 12 years, seven months in prison, Ali was sentenced to nine years, Chaudhari was sentenced to nine years, Dilip Patel was sentenced to four years, four months, Harsh Patel was sentenced to six years, 10 months, Bhatt was sentenced to 12 years, one month and Bhavesh Patel was sentenced to 10 years, one month.
On Thursday and Friday the court is scheduled to sentence Miteshkumar Patel, Jerry Norris, Nisarg Patel, Montu Barot, Praful Patel, Dilip A. Patel, Nilesh Pandya, Rajesh Kumar, Hardik Patel, Rajubhai Patel, Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, Bharatkumar Patel and Nilam Parikh.
Joshi is represented by David Adler of David Adler PC. Ali is represented by John Riley Friesell of Friesell Westerlage PLLC. Chaudhari is represented by Hilary Diane Unger of Unger and Hershkowitz. Dilip Patel is represented by Adrian Almaguer. Viraj Patel is represented by Cornel A. Williams of Williams and Associates. Harsh Patel is represented by Brian Edward Warren. Bhatt is represented by Richard B. Kuniansky of Kuniansky and Associates. Bhavesh Patel is represented by R. Trent Gaither of Law Office of Trent Gaither.
The government is represented by Robert Stapleton, James Michael Scheckels, Hope Sharon Olds, Craig M. Feazel, Stephen Mark McIntyre, Mona N. Sahaf and Amanda Schlager Wick of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The case is U.S. v. Joshi et al., case number 4:16-cr-00385, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.