Gulfport, Miss. Fifteen people were arrested Tuesday in South Africa, Canada, California, Wisconsin, and Indiana, based on an eight-count federal indictment filed in the Southern District of Mississippi.
Another individual was arrested n New York on a related Southern District of Mississippi complaint. Both the indictment and complaint were unsealed Tuesday.
The indictment alleges a West African transnational organized crime enterprise was involved in numerous complex financial fraud schemes over the Internet.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Jackson says the mass marketing fraud included romance scams, re-shipping scams, fraudulent check scams and work-at-home scams, along with bank, financial and credit card account take-overs.
The Department of Justice Organized Crime Gang Section has filed a related indictment against three individuals in Charleston, South Carolina, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia has a related complaint in Atlanta against two additional defendants.
Officials say the investigation was initiated in October, 2011, by HSI agents in Gulfport after U.S. law enforcement officers were contacted by a female victim in Mississippi who was the victim of a sweetheart scam. The victim received a package in the mail requesting that she reship the merchandise to an address in Pretoria, South Africa. The investigation later revealed that the merchandise was purchased using stolen personal identity information and fraudulent credit card information of persons in the United States.
Investigators have identified hundreds of victims of this scam in the United States, resulting in the loss of millions of U.S. dollars.
Tuesday’s arrests were the result of an investigation led by the HSI Gulfport office in partnership with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, South African Police Service, Toronto Police, HSI Cyber Crimes Center, Treasury Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture, HSI Ontario, HSI Charleston, Interpol South Africa, HSI Pretoria and HSI Atlanta.
The Department of Justice Office of International Affairs assisted in the provisional arrests of ten defendants in Pretoria, South Africa. Another defendant was arrested in Toronto, Canada, and the remaining defendants were arrested in the United States.
“Financial fraud is a danger to all Americans and a threat to everyone,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis. “This round-up is continuing and powerful evidence of our commitment in federal law enforcement to aggressively identify, investigate and prosecute those who, through violation of federal criminal laws, pose a threat to the financial security of our citizens, communities and financial institutions."
“Financial crimes that threaten the health of our national economy and criminals who attempt to cheat law-abiding citizens out of their hard-earned money will continue to be a major investigative priority for HSI,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer, Jr., who oversees a five-state area of operations to include Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.
The case in Mississippi will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annette Williams and Scott Gilbert, and will be scheduled for trial after extradition of the defendants to Mississippi.