Nov. 30 (UPI) -- A Texas judge on Monday sentenced an Indian national to 20 years in prison for operating a complex scheme from India-based call centers to defraud Americans of tens of millions of dollars.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner sentenced Hitesh Madhubhai Patel, 44, of Ahmedabad, India, to two decades behind bars and to three years of supervised release for the charges of wire fraud conspiracy and general conspiracy to commit identification fraud, access device fraud, money laundering and impersonation of a federal officer or employee.
Patel was also ordered to pay nearly $9 million in restitution to his victims, the Justice Department said.
"For years, these individuals preyed on the fears of his victims to perpetuate a global scheme to manipulate U.S. institutions and taxpayers," said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas.
Patel pleaded guilty in January to operating several Indian call centers from where his co-conspirators would call Americans pretending to be officials from the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and threaten their victims with arrest, fines and deportation if they did not pay money they alleged was owed to the U.S. government.
His victims would be instructed to pay their alleged debts through general purpose reloadable cards or through wire transfers and upon payment, a network of runners in the United States would launder the ill-gotten funds, the Justice Department said.
Patel admitted in his plea deal that his scheme, which ran from 2013 to 2016, netted him between $25 million and $65 million.
"The defendant defrauded vulnerable U.S. 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," acting Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department's Criminal Division said in a statement. "Today's sentence demonstrates the department's commitment to prosecuting high-level perpetrators of such nefarious schemes."
The United States indicted Patel along with 60 other people and entities in October 2016. Twenty-four defendants in the United States associated with the scheme were convicted and sentenced by courts in Texas, Arizona and Georgia to up to 20 years in prison.
The Justice Department said authorities in Singapore apprehended Patel in April of last year at the behest of the United States after he flew there from India in 2018.
He was extradited to the United States the same month he was arrested, prosecutors said.
"The sentence imposed today provides a clear deterrent to those who would seek to enrich themselves by extorting the most vulnerable in our society through these types of scams," said Special Agent in Charge David Green of the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General. "These foreign call center operators and their U.S. based affiliates should know that their actions carry real-life consequences."
Patel's sentencing came more than a month after the Justice Department announced a federal court order against five companies to stop another call center scheme that was the result of the first parallel action by U.S. and Indian governments targeting elder fraud.
The scheme consisted of contacting U.S. citizens via Internet pop-up messages that falsely purported to be security alerts claiming their computers were infected and directed the victims to call a toll-free number, where conspirators at call centers would ask to be paid hundreds of dollars to remove non-existent issues from their computers.