HOUSTON – The leader in a conspiracy to commit mail fraud has been ordered to federal prison, the United States Department of Justice said Thursday.
The DOJ said MD Azad, 26, an Indian national who resided in Houston, pleaded guilty on Aug. 15, 2022, and admitted he participated in a fraud ring from 2019-2020 which operated out of various cities, including Houston.
Azad has been ordered to serve 188 months in federal prison. He expected to face removal proceedings following the prison term.
At the hearing, U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani said the court heard additional evidence that described Azad as the U.S.-based ringleader working with a call center in India. In handing down the sentence, the court mentioned the many letters and victim impact statements it had read showing the “financial devastation” to elderly and vulnerable victims throughout the United States because of the fraud scheme, a news release said.
“The victims in this case were devastated, financially and otherwise,” Hamdani said. “This fraud ring repeatedly preyed on elderly and vulnerable people in the United States who spoke of threats of bodily harm if they did not comply with demands for more money. Our hope, and that of many of the victims, is deterrence so as to stop others who would think of doing similar harm in our community and beyond.”
The scheme reportedly targeted elderly victims throughout the U.S. and in other countries.
According to investigators, the ring “tricked and deceived” victims using various ruses and instructed them to send money via wire through a money transmitter business such as Western Union or MoneyGram, by buying gift cards and providing them to the fraudsters or by mailing cash to alias names via FedEx or UPS.
Authorities said part of the scheme involved fraudsters contacting victims by phone or via internet sites for computer technical support and directing victims to a particular phone number. Once victims contacted the fraudsters, they were told stories, such as they were communicating with an expert that needed remote access to their computer in order to provide technical support services. The fraudsters then gained access to victims’ personal data and bank and credit card information, the DOJ said.
Victims typically paid a fee to conspirators for the fake technical support but were later told they were due a refund, Hamdani said. Through paying for “technical support” or through the “refund” process, investigators said the ring gained access to the victim’s bank account(s) and credit cards and manipulated the accounts to make it appear the victim was paid too large a refund due to a typographical error. Victims were then instructed to reimburse the ring by various means.
“Victims were sometimes re-victimized multiple times and threatened with bodily harm if they did not pay,” the release said.
Officials said Indian citizen Anirudha Kalkote, 26, also pleaded guilty in relation to the conspiracy as did Sumit Kumar Singh, 26, Himanshu Kumar, 26, and MD Hasib, 27. They are pending sentencing. All five of them will remain in custody.
In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice launched the National Elder Fraud Hotline to help combat fraud against older Americans and provide services to victims. If you or someone you know is a victim of elder fraud, you are encouraged to call the hotline at 833–FRAUD–11 (833–372–8311).
The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time. Services are available for speakers of English, Spanish and other languages.