Federal authorities unsealed an indictment Thursday, charging 56 people in a vast scheme in which suspects posed as Internal Revenue Service agents and immigration authorities to siphon more than $300 million from thousands of unwitting victims to clear fictitious deportation warrants and phony tax debts.
The scheme, which employed a network of telephone call centers based in India, relied on personal information obtained from data brokers to target at least 15,000 victims with threats of fines, deportation or imprisonment if they did not pay the demanded fees, since call centers are usually used for legitimate business, selling to clients or giving tech or product support.
In the thousands of cases where victims did agree to settle the fictitious accounts, the money allegedly was laundered through groups of U.S. co-conspirators using wire transfers and debit cards.
Twenty of the 24 U.S. suspects were arrested Thursday, officials said. One other is in immigration custody, arrests are pending against two more and a fourth, Jerry Norris, 46, of Oakland, Calif., is being sought by federal authorities. Thirty-two suspects were believed to be living in India, and the court documents also outlined charges against five call center operations. U.S. officials said that they would seek to prosecute the Indian suspects in the United States and that the Indian government was notified of the case after the charges were unsealed.