HOUSTON – An Indian national was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in operating and funding India-based call centers that defrauded U.S. victims out of millions of dollars between 2013 and 2016.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner sentenced Hitesh Madhubhai Patel aka Hitesh Hinglaj, 44, of Ahmedabad, India, for 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 restitution of $8,970,396 to identified victims of his crimes.
According to admissions in his plea agreement, Patel and his co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme in which employees from call centers in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and engaged in other telephone call scams designed to defraud victims throughout the United States. U.S. victims were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay alleged monies owed to the government. Those who fell victim were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing general purpose reloadable (GPR) cards or wiring money. Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the United States to liquidate and launder the fraudulently obtained funds.
In his plea, Patel admitted to operating and funding several India-based call centers from which the fraud schemes were perpetrated, including the call center HGLOBAL. Patel corresponded by email and WhatsApp messaging frequently with his co-defendants to exchange credit card numbers, telephone scam scripts and call center operations instructions. The scripts included IRS impersonation, USCIS impersonation, Canada Revenue Agency impersonation, Australian Tax Office impersonation, payday loan fraud, U.S. Government grant fraud and debt collection fraud.
A co-defendant described Patel as “the top person in India and the boss for whom most of the other defendants worked,” and the owner of multiple call centers. Another stated Patel was arrested in India in 2016, but then paid a bribe and was released. Additionally, Patel admitted that a reasonably foreseeable loss of more than $25 million but less than $65 million was attributable to him, based on the government’s evidence against him.
Patel was prosecuted in the United States after being extradited from Singapore in April 2019 to face charges in this large-scale telefraud and money laundering scheme. Singapore authorities apprehended Patel at the request of the United States pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant in September 2018 after Patel flew there from India.
“For years, this individual preyed on the fears of his victims to perpetuate a global scheme to manipulate U.S. institutions and taxpayers,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark B. Dawson of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “Working with our law enforcement partners around the globe we have successfully executed the first ever large-scale, multi-jurisdictional investigation and prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry to hold him accountable for his illegal acts and deter similar scams in the future.”
The indictment in this case, which was unsealed in October 2016, charged Patel and 60 other individuals and entities with general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. A total of 24 domestic defendants associated with this transnational criminal scheme were previously convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment of up to 20 years in the Southern District of Texas, District of Arizona and Northern District of Georgia. The defendants were also ordered to pay millions of dollars in victim restitution and money judgments and to forfeit seized assets. Some defendants were ordered to be removed based on their illegal immigration status, with another defendant having his U.S. citizenship revoked due to a separate conviction for immigration fraud. Charges remain pending for other India-based defendants. They are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.