The leader of a robocall scam center in India that victimized 4,000 people in the U.S. out of more than $10 million was sentenced Thursday to 22 years in prison.
Shehzadkhan Pathan, 40, pleaded guilty in January to charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft and was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson.
Among the victims of the ring’s scams, which typically began with a robocall from a center in Ahmedabad, India, was an elderly Virginia woman whose story was recounted in a June article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The woman, who cares for an adult son, lost $445,000 — almost her entire life savings, which she was duped into sending to people posing as law enforcement agents.
Raj Parekh, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said, “The impact of the harm inflicted on the victims of these robocall schemes can be devastating. The victims, many of whom are elderly, continue to endure significant financial hardship from the defendant’s vast fraud enterprise.”
“When you consider the sheer number of victims this defendant extorted and the magnitude of their losses, the scale of harm and pain he caused is enormous,” said Parekh.
None of the money stolen from the victims has been returned to the U.S., said prosecutors. In asking Hudson to impose a maximum term of 22 years, Brian R. Hood, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote: “For all practical purposes, [Pathan] was the fraudulent call center operation. Such thorough control and involvement in what was indisputably a far-reaching crime demands harsh punishment.”
At least nine others involved in the scam have been charged in federal court in Richmond. All of the defendants are Indian nationals.
The recorded robocalls told victims that they had a serious legal or criminal problem and that if they did not immediately comply with the demands, there would be drastic consequences.
When the victims responded as directed by the robocall, they would be transferred to a “closer” who used different scripts to scam them, including impersonating officials from the FBI, DEA, Social Security Administration and IRS. The closers convinced the victims to wire money and send parcels containing bulk cash to addresses and recipients involved in the conspiracy.
Many victims were threatened with severe consequences such as arrest or losing government benefits unless they cooperated. Most of the victims were older.
Pathan recruited and supervised the money couriers, “mules,” who received the money from the victims. The couriers were located in states including Virginia, New Jersey, Minnesota, Texas, California, South Carolina and Illinois. Pathan assigned various aliases to the couriers and supplied them with counterfeit identification documents to help them collect the victims’ cash shipments and money transfers.
Authorities said Pathan then directed the couriers to send the money to him and to others involved in the conspiracy using cash deposits into bank accounts and through informal money transmitters known as Hawalas.
Pathan’s lawyer, Gregory R. Sheldon, citing Pathan’s lack of a prior record and the much lesser prison terms imposed on others thus far sentenced in the case, asked Hudson for a sentence no greater than 12½ years.
“The requested sentence is a harsh one, particularly for a defendant who has never been previously incarcerated and who will be detained in a foreign country to which he has minimal ties and absolutely no support of family,” wrote Sheldon to Hudson.
“VICTIM #1” in numerous public federal court records is a retired Chesterfield County woman in her late 60s who cares for her adult son in a house in need of repairs she can no longer afford.