Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Operation Wire Wire: The South Florida Cases, Part 1

Yesterday we started a series of posts about Operation Wire Wire, where the Department of Justice announced charges against 74 people for Business Email Compromise and related scams.

The South Florida cases are so huge, we're actually going to break them into three parts as well.  In part one, we'll look at the case against Cynthia Rodriguez, Destiny Asjee Rowland, and Lourdes Washington.


Defendant #1: Cynthia Rodriguez:
18:1349.F Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
18:1956-3300.F Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering
18:1956-3300.F Money Laundering and Forfeiture Count

Defendant #2: Destiny Asjee Rowland
18:1343 Wire Fraud
18:1349 Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
18:1956(h) Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering
18:1956 Money Laundering
18:1956(a)(1)(B)(i) Money Laundering

Defendant #3: Lourdes Washington
18:1349 Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
18:1956(h) Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering
18:1956(a)(1)(B)(i) Money Laundering

According to the indictment against Destiny Asjee Rowland, Rowland incorporated "Asjee Luxury Inc" in July 2017 and claimed to be a furniture merchant wholesaler at 3688 NW 83rd Lane in Sunrise, Florida.  The victim companies in her case were a company in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a lumber company in Illinois, and an escrow company in Roseville, California that was selling property for two people called "KW" and "TW" in the indictment.

Asjee Luxury opened accounts at TD Bank and SunTrust Bank.  Using other people's names and email addresses, she convinced companies to transfer money to her account, including by falsely claiming to be the lumber company, where she sent "urgent audit" notices to the Wisconsin company demanding immediate wire transfers of payments owed to the lumber company.  That email came from an IP address in Nigeria on July 27, 2017.  By July 28th, a Bank of America account in Wisconsin had sent $1,651,699 to her TD Bank account in Florida.

 She also caused the escrow company to redirect payments intended for their clients KW and TW to accounts she controlled, receiving $451,759 from a City National Bank account in California into her SunTrust Bank account in Florida on July 31, 2017.

Cynthia Rodriguez and Loudes Washington have a ten page criminal complaint written by a US Secret Service agent to describe their case.  Washington created a new business, LW Nationwide Inc, at 9561 Fountainebleau Blvd, Apartment 402, Miami, Florida 33172, which coincidentally is also his driver's license address.  Then he opened a Bank of America account in that name.

A Real Estate attorney, BD, was handling the closing on several pieces of property.  On Feb 14, 2017, he receives an email from ***@themarstongroup.com informing him that he would receive a check for $37,225 via registered mail, along with a 1099 tax form.  The next day, an email from the same name ***@gmx.us said that he was leaving town unexpectedly and needed the funds sent via wire transfer instead.  Those funds were then directed to the BofA account of LW Nationwide.  Those funds were immediately RE-wired to a bank account in Zhejiang, China.  The same day, Washington withdrew funds from an ATM in Hialeah, Florida.  Three minutes later, at the same ATM machine, Cynthia Rodriguez withdrew funds from the LW Nationwide account, using the same debit card as Washington.   Bank of America's logs reveal that an IP address, 50.143.68.4 was used to access the account.  That IP address was Rodriguez's home Comcast Cable account at 2914 Funston Street, in Hollywood, Florida.  Rodriguez made additional withdrawals from the account, including from a drivethrough ATM whose cameras captured the license plate of her Nissan Quest, 520-TML, registered to Rodriguez.

Washington was later arrested (December 2017) as a result of an open warrant in Kentucky, and testified to opening the accounts, making the wire transfers, and doing the cash withdrawals "at the behest of her recruiter/manager" who she did not identify.

Meanwhile, the Eu Claire, Wisconsin business contacted the US Secret Service about the scam involving the fake invoices from the lumber company.   Records from the state of Florida revealed that Asjee Luxury only had one officer, and one signatory on their bank accounts. What seems to be a cooperating witness (Individual 1) in that case revealed that Rodriguez had recruited them to open several sham business accounts, including the TD Bank account belonging to Asjee Luxury!  Shortly after the California real estate company wired money into that account, ATM video footage showed Individual 1 withdrawing $8,000 cash from the account.  Individual 1 would then give half of the money to Rodriguez and keep the other half.  Individual 1 also opened a shell company called Wide Assure Trades Inc and a corresponding Bank of America account.

On October 27, 2017, Rodriguez notified Individual 1 that Wide Assure Trades was going to receive some money.  That account was logged into the same day from 76.18.27.6, the IP address that Comcast listed for Rodriguez's home address at 2914 Funston Street, Hollywood Florida at that time.  (DHCP addresses change from time to time.)

Later an additional document, not an indictment, but rather "Superseding Information" was filed



The Superseding Information reveals that Cynthia Rodriguez had incorporated "CR Elegant Trades" in September 2014 from her home address in Hialeah, Florida.  We already spoke of Washington's company, LW Nationwide, and Rowland's company, Asjee Luxury.  The superseding information speaks of (but does not give many details) an ongoing conspiracy from 2014 until 2018 that involved the creation of many shell companies and many fraudulent wire transfers. 

"It was the purpose of the conspiracy for the defendants and their co-conspirators to unlawfully enrich themselves by obtaining and misappropriating money from victims, by making materially false and fraudulent representations, and by the concealment of material facts, concerning, among other things, the true identify of the defendants and their co-conspirators and the purported need for victims to make payments to the defendants and their co-conspirators."

Lourdes Washington entered a plea agreement that included the fact that she may face 20 years in prison, 3 years supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 or double the pecuniary gain, as well as restitution, and acknowledging that they may be "denaturalized and removed" as a result of their crimes.  In other words, Washington had a public defender, as the only funds they tie to her are $37,225.  (It will be interesting to see what actually happens at sentencing on July 9, 2018.)

Cynthia Rodriguez also plead guilty, but in her case, she named her recruiter.  In the plea agreement, she agrees that she and her co-conspirators opened shell corporations and bank accounts for the purpose of receiving proceeds of wire fraud scams in exchange for a percentage of profits.  But then she says she was recruited to the scam by Roda TAHER.  Taher, AKA Res, AKA Rezi, AKA Ressi, recruited Rodriguez initially as a money mule, but advanced her to being a sub-recruiter, working to hire and manage additional money mules in the South Florida area. Rodriguez was responsible for providing corporate documents for her mules' shell companies, driving the money mules to banks, or ordering them to open certain accounts at certain banks, and accompanying them to withdraw funds.  She also provided directions to money mules on how to hide their schemes from banks, law enforcement and other individuals.

Rodriguez's plea agreement states that she knew the money was coming from wire fraud, and that she knew that business email compromise and spear phishing scams were used, including email account takeovers and "spoofed" email accounts making the victims believe they were making wire transfers to trusted partners, but instead depositing the funds into the accounts of the fraudsters.  Rodriguez says that she used the phone application "WhatsApp" to exchange encrypted messages with co-conspirators, including Taher, in order to evade detection by law enforcement.  Her plea confesses to laundering at least $4,760,669.80 between herself and the mules she recruited.

Like Washington, Rodriguez's plea states that she may do 20 years plus 3 supervised, and pay a fine of $250,000 or double the pecuniary gain, plus restitution, and that she may face denaturalization and removal.

Base Offense level for Washington was 8.  Increased by 18 levls due to the amount of laundered funds being between $3.5M and $9.5M.  +3 because she was a manager or supervisor in a scheme involving 5 of more participants.  +2 because of 18USC1956, and +2 because of the "sophisticated nature" of the laundering.  So, a level 33 offense.  They only decreased her 3 levels for "demonstrating acceptance of responsibility and assisting authorities in the investigation".  So she is still facing a level 30 offense.

"Furthermore, the Defendant stipulates that she owes restitution in the amount of $4,760,669.80!"

The plea agreement was signed May 23, 2018.  Rodriguez will be sentenced on July 11, 2018.

In Operation Wire Wire: The South Florida Cases Part 2, we'll look at 18-CR-20170, with defendants Eliot Pereira, Natalie Armona, Bryant Ortega, Melissa Rios, Angelo Santa Cruz, Alexis Fernandez Cruz, Roberto Carlos Gracia, Jose E. Rivera, Angeles De Jesus Angulo, Jennifer Ruiz, Yirielkys Pacheco Fernandez, and Sebastian Loyaza.

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