Entries in Fraud (25)


Miami Businessman Arrested for Allegedly Stealing Millions from Investors

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- A Miami businessman whom Ernst & Young once named "Entrepreneur of the Year" has been accused of swindling $40 million from investors, including some NBA stars, to support a lavish lifestyle.

Venezuelan-born Claudio Osorio, 54, was arrested on Friday and charged with 23 counts of fraud and money laundering for exaggerating the success of his company, InnoVida, between March 2007 and March 2011, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission's complaint.

Craig Toll, 64, InnoVida's chief financial officer, was also charged along with his former boss.

Toll's attorney Richard Klugh released a statement to ABC News saying his client was "an honorable employee of the company and should not have been charged with anything."

Neither Osorio nor his attorney has responded to requests for comment.  It's unclear whether the two men are still in custody.

Osorio allegedly took money from about 10 investors, telling them that InnoVida produced building panels used to construct houses and other structures resistant to fires and hurricanes.  Authorities say the high-flying businessman lured potential investors with false financial statements and high-profile connections, including a blue-chip board of directors that included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has not responded to a request for comment.

Osorio used the money to finance a lifestyle that included a $12 million mansion on Miami Beach's exclusive Star Island, which boasts nine bedrooms and a swimming pool with a gazebo.  Osorio also illegally used investor money to buy a Maserati, a Colorado mountain retreat home and country club dues, according to the SEC complaint.

"From his lap of luxury, Osorio concocted a compelling story about InnoVida by recruiting an impressive board of directors and boasting a bogus financial condition to lure investors into funding his scheme of lies," Eric Bustillo, director of the SEC's Miami Regional Office, said in a news release.

Osorio allegedly even duped the likes of current and former basketball stars Dwight Howard, Alonzo Mourning and Carlos Boozer.

The SEC says that Osorio told one investor that InnoVida was valued at $250 million, and then a week later told a different investor that the company was worth $50 million.

Another one of Osorio's alleged victims was Miami businessman and lawyer Chris Korge, who says he met Osorio in 2008.  The two men became close and Korge eventually invested $4 million in InnoVida, he says.

"Everything about the company added up," Korge told ABC News.  "Once he got everything he could get from me, I started to notice the interaction I had with him started to slow down."

Korge and others eventually filed lawsuits against Osorio, forcing InnoVida into bankruptcy in 2011 and his Star Island mansion was auctioned off.

"He convinced me that this was the opportunity of a lifetime," Korge said.  "He was a fraudster and a sociopath."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


What You Should Know Before Donating to a Disaster Charity or Paying a Contractor

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Department of Justice has warned of the potential for disaster fraud in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, which ravaged millions of homes and businesses along the Atlantic Coast, and as of Friday morning, had left more than 3.6 million people in 11 states without power.

Suspected fraudulent activity relating to storm relief efforts should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud's toll-free hot line at 866-720-5721, which is available 24-hours a day, seven-days a week .

Located in Baton Rouge, La., the fraud center was established by the Justice Department in the fall of 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. Its task force has prosecuted 1,439 individuals throughout the country related to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, according to the center. Those prosecutions included charity scams, government and private-sector benefit fraud, identity theft, contract and procurement fraud and public corruption.

The Federal Trade Commission has stepped in too with help on how home and business owners who need to hire contractors can avoid scammers.

First, said the FTC, ask for copies of a contractor's general liability and worker's compensation insurance. Homeowners are advised to check the contractor's identification and references.

"Deal with reputable people in your community," the FTC advises.

Next, if a down payment is required, pay only the minimum.

If you suspect a contractor is committing fraud, contact local law enforcement authorities and the Better Business Bureau.

The FTC offers the following tips for donating to charities:

1. Donate only to charities you know and trust.

Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight. Conduct due diligence on a charity. One way is to contact the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at
2. Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser.

The FTC advises that consumers ask fundraisers who they work for, and what percentage of a donation goes to the charity and what percentage to the fundraiser. "If you don't get a clear answer, or if you don't like the answer you get, consider donating to a different organization," the FTC states.

3. Do not give out personal or financial information.

Your personal information includes your credit card or bank account number. The FTC says don't give that out unless you know the charity is reputable.

4. Never send cash.

If you give in cash, you won't know for sure if the organization will ever receive your donation, nor will you have a record for tax purposes.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Auction of Horses From Indicted City Comptroller Earns Almost $5 Million

Dixon, Ill., Comptroller Rita Crundwell is shown in this undated photo. (American Quarter Horse Association)(DIXON, Ill.) -- An auction of horses that belonged to an Illinois city comptroller indicted for stealing more than $53 million yielded $4.8 million this week, with millions in seized assets that have not been liquidated, says the U.S. Marshals Service.

Rita Crundwell, 59, comptroller of Dixon, Ill., is accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $53 million in city funds to support a "lavish lifestyle," including a large farm with over 150 horses, over $339,000 in jewelry, and numerous vehicles.

Crundwell was arrested in April and indicted in May by the U.S. Attorney's Office for one count of wire fraud after allegedly helping herself to public funds since 1990.

At the time of her arrest, FBI agents used seizure warrants at Crundwell's home, office, and her champion horse farm in Beloit, Wis., as well as another farm in Dixon, and seized contents of two bank accounts she controlled.

As the town's comptroller since the early 1980s, Crundwell earned an annual salary of $80,000, according to the complaint filed in April in the Northern District Court of Illinois.

Her attorney, Paul Gaziano of the Federal Defender Program, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The U.S. District Court Judge of Rockford, Ill., had ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to seize, manage and liquidate Crundwell's assets and to deposit the funds into an escrow account. The U.S. Marshals will use some of the funds for their expenses, including $1.5 million from caring for the horses. Other expenses include $400,000 that Crundwell still owed on a luxury motor home, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The funds are expected to be available to the city provided the government proves the allegations against Crundwell.

There have been three auctions this month that earned $7.2 million and Jason Wojdylo, chief inspector of the U.S. Marshals Service asset forfeiture division, expects millions in assets have yet to be sold.

The most expensive horse from the live auction, a three-time quarter-horse world champion called "Good I Will Be," sold to a Canadian for $775,000. Also sold during the live auction were frozen horse semen for $98,500 and tack and equipment for $892,945. Earlier this month, an online auction sold 80 horses for $1.6 million. On Tuesday, Crundwell's luxury motor home sold for $800,000.

Tim Jennings, co-owner of Professional Auction Services Inc., which managed the live auction of 319 horses on Sunday and Monday, said Crundwell would have probably never let go of many of the horses sold.

"These bloodlines will be dispersed in the industry and will have an impact for quite some time," he said.

Jennings said he was surprised by the show of interest in the auction from around the world, from people in Australia, Brazil, Europe. Part of the attention was driven by Crundwell's horses, which have made her "tremendously successful" in the quarter-horse world. She is an eight-time leading exhibitor at the American Quarter Horse world championship show.

However, Jennings said the allegations against Crundwell brought a large number of the 4,000 auction attendees.

Now that the most expensive assets to manage, the horses, have been sold, the Wojdylo said the U.S. Marshals Service can focus on the other assets, which include jewelry, vehicles and land. Wojdylo said one of her farms, which spans 80 acres, may be worth $800,000 alone.

Dixon has a population of 15,733, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office, and a budget of $8 million to $9 million a year. Crundwell, who handled all finances for the city, allegedly had access to an account that was unknown to Dixon's Mayor James Burke.

Burke said a new comptroller has been hired by the city and Crundwell is undergoing due process from both the federal and state court system. Last week, a Lee County grand jury returned a 60-count indictment against Crundwell on state charges that she embezzled almost $11 million in city money since January 2010.

Crundwell is accused of moving funds from the city's various bank accounts through a series of wire transfers and checks payable to "Treasurer," and depositing them into the unknown account from which she withdrew money for her own personal and business expenses.

The unknown account was held by the City of Dixon, but an entity called "RSCDA," was also listed. Checks written from this account were in 'C/O Rita Crundwell,'" the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Between January of 2007 and March of 2012, Crundwell allegedly used city funds to spend more than $2.5 million on her personal American Express credit card account, including more than $339,000 on jewelry, spending an average of over $5,380 a month.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


USA Harvest Founder Charged with Looting Charity

Nick M Do/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The founder of charity group USA Harvest, which has ties to celebrities Scarlett Johansson, Hillary Duff, the Goo Goo Dolls and Green Day, has been charged by the Justice Department with stealing more than $553,000 from the organization.

Hugh “Stan” Curtis, the founder of USA Harvest, has been charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kentucky with mail fraud, money laundering and filing false income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.

Curtis allegedly stole over $180,000 between September 2005 and September 2007 of donations that he solicited on behalf of the organization -- a tax-exempt charity. The theft included some large donations meant for USA Harvest.  

According to the criminal charges, Curtis allegedly deposited checks into his bank account for the charity that included a $20,000 and a $25,000 check from donors.

The charity provides food and meals for individuals in need by partnering with restaurants and hospitals to get leftover food to soup kitchens and food banks. According to the USA Harvest website, which highlights their ties with celebrities such as Johansson, the charity works with 5,400 agencies to provide food and notes that they have provided over 437 billion pounds of food to organizations since their founding in 1989.

The criminal charges filed by the Justice Department allege that Curtis failed to pay taxes on approximately $553,891.67 in personal income which included $183,000 in donations and over $370,000 in personal travel expenses that he billed to the charity.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western Kentucky, “None of the charities Curtis has been associated with -- USA Harvest, Kentucky Harvest, and Blessings In A Backpack -- have been accused of any wrongdoing or impropriety.  The only charitable organization to have suffered any loss as a result of the conduct charged in the information was USA Harvest.”

A request for comment from USA Harvest by ABC News has not been returned.  A review of the court docket did not reveal a defense attorney for Curtis.  

If convicted of the charges, Curtis could face a maximum of 52 years in prison.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Fraud Charges Filed Against Alleged Scammer Seen on "Nightline"

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A federal grand jury charged a California man with 21 counts of fraud Thursday in connection with a massive debt collection scam that was highlighted in an ABC News investigative report in June.

Kirit Patel, 68, of Tracy, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the charges, which stem from an operation that authorities allege targeted hundreds of thousands of cash-strapped Americans with millions of coercive and threatening phone calls from boiler rooms in India.

Patel has proclaimed his innocence through an attorney, and refused to answer questions when ABC's Nightline tracked him to his son's home in Texas in June.

Law enforcement officials told ABC News the phone calls targeted struggling Americans -- especially those who had gone online to apply for payday loans.  Armed with personal information from those pilfered loan applications, the threatening callers, who claim to be debt collectors poised to initiate legal action, managed to pry loose millions of dollars from their victims -- even when the victims never owed money in the first place.

"This is what we call a phantom debt collection scam," said Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.  "It's a very pernicious and innovative new fraud."

The indictment alleges that Patel participated in the scheme by setting up a front company in Northern California named "Broadway Global Master" that was used to process the payments after victims relented and provided credit card numbers to avoid arrest over the nonexistent debts.

According to the indictment, the scheme involved more than two million phone calls, resulting in fraudulent transactions totaling more than $5 million.

Some victims told ABC News they had receiving dozens of calls per hour.  One victim, Cindy Gervais, of New Orleans, said she believes the calls started after she went online for a quick loan when her husband's car was hit by a driver who didn't have insurance.

Even though she paid the loan off, the so-called "phantom" debt collectors began calling to say she still owed money.

"He more or less told me that if I didn't pay, they were going to have someone on my doorstep to arrest me," she told ABC News.  "And that they were going to contact my place of business, and tell them what kind of person I am."

At first, she said she resisted.  Then the calls became more frequent, and started to ring on her cellphone, and at the grocery distribution company where she had worked for 27 years.

"I was more or less in panic mode because he told me there would be someone before noon at my place of business to arrest me and take me to jail," she said tearfully.  "So I agreed to pay him."

After receiving scores of complaints, investigators with the FTC said they began tracking the calls, and following the payments.  They alleged the payments led them to Patel.  ABC News tracked Patel for weeks, from the suburbs of San Francisco to Austin, Texas.

Patel refused to talk.  But his lawyer, Mark Ellis, said in June he believed it was far too early to pass judgment on his client.  Ellis, a Sacramento-based attorney, told ABC News that Patel was hired for a nominal fee to set up an American shell company, and had no idea what the call centers in India were doing.

"I can tell you, he was as snookered by the people in India as anybody," Ellis said.  "He's a man who is nearing his retirement who thought all he had to do was set up some corporations and everything was on the up and up.  He's completely dismayed that he has become the lightning rod of this entire problem."

Leibowitz, the FTC chairman, said his agency did not believe Patel was snookered.

"I would say that all roads of this scam, or many of the roads of this scam, lead back to Mr. Patel," he said.

The FTC has froze more than half a million dollars in accounts from Patel's corporations.  FTC officials said they will argue in court that the funds should be seized and returned to consumer victims.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Fighting Medicare Fraud: Gov't Sets Up Multi-Million Dollar War Room

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Medicare fraud costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year -- but now the government says it has developed a powerful, new tool that can stop Medicare scam artists in their tracks.

It's a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art war room in a secret location -- but it's not a CIA facility. This war room is dedicated to stopping sophisticated Medicare scams.

“Preventing fraud and abuse is really what this effort is all about,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sophisticated computer programs at this new command center can scan millions of Medicare transactions in real time, Sebelius says, then identify and stop payment on fraudulent claims before a dollar of taxpayer money goes out the door.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Admin. Partners with Health Insurers to Prevent Fraud

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration is partnering with major insurers in the fight against health care fraud, announcing plans today to share billing information in an effort to identify trends and halt scams.

“Lots of the fraudsters have used our fragmented health care system to their advantage,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters today at a White House event with insurance executives. “By sharing information across payers we can bring this potentially fraudulent activity to light.”

The federal government, state investigators, and major insurers will share data and best practices to try to prevent billions of dollars in questionable payments and safeguard taxpayer resources, the administration announced.

“We will work to develop and disseminate best practices, to educate health care professionals and consumers on ways to identify and stop fraud, and to open an ongoing dialogue about the emerging trends and evolving threats throughout the healthcare marketplace,” Attorney General Eric Holder explained.

In the past, Sebelius said, the government followed the “pay-and-chase” model, paying claims first and later tracking down the ones that were fraudulent. “The money was already out the door,” she said. “Now we’re taking away the crooks’ head start.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Former Army Reservist Says Bank of America Refunding $25K in Fraudulent Debit Charges

Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images(UTICA, N.Y.) -- Two years later, Bank of America is refunding $25,243.71 to a former army reservist for charges he said were fraudulently accrued to his debit card while he was on leave from service.

John McDevitt, a U.S. Army reservist from Clayville, N.Y., served in Afghanistan for a year and spent his two free weeks in Greece in November 2010 according to a policy afforded to soldiers deployed in a combat zone. That was where he claims he was ripped off at a clip joint for the cash off his debit card.

McDevitt said he is "excited" Bank of America is refunding over $25,000 that the nightclub in Athens wrongly charged him.

McDevitt said he is waiting to receive the refund after a senior executive of veteran affairs from Bank of America called him on Wednesday evening to notify him of the news.

"I'm hoping now the politicians in this country will use this to change these laws to protect consumers," said McDevitt, who has written letters to public officials about strengthening rules regarding fraud protection. "Whether a debit or credit card, if someone forges your name, it's the responsibility of Visa or the bank to hold that payment until it's verified."

T.J. Crawford, spokesman for Bank of America, told ABC News that "from day one our fraud team handled this case by the books, following all internal and external protocols including attempted arbitration with Visa and "it was determined that the dispute is between the merchant and Mr. McDevitt."

"That being said, in light of Mr. McDevitt's service to our country we are extending him the benefit of the doubt and refunding the full amount," Crawford said.

Last week, outraged over the charges he said Bank of America should refund him, McDevitt protested outside a branch in Utica, N.Y., holding a sign that read, "A soldier that puts America first should have a bank that puts the soldier first,"as reported by WKTV.

On Nov. 29, 2010, McDevitt notified Bank of America, which issued a temporary credit to his account for the full amount on Dec. 3, 2010, while the fraud claim was being reported. But the bank took back the funds after determining that "no error had occurred in this instance" as stated in a letter sent Dec. 9. 2010 from the bank.

McDevitt said his only option was to use a debit card because he has been unable to obtain a credit card after his ex-wife filed for bankruptcy.

In a letter provided to ABC News by McDevitt, the bank said that on Dec. 9, 2010, it "received the signed sales drafts from the merchant reflecting your signature and card imprint."

Attempts by ABC News to reach the club for comment were unsuccessful.

"We found that the transaction activity in question was authorized and posted, or billed, correctly to your account," the letter stated.

The bank also stated that it attempted a "chargeback" against the merchant but on Feb. 23, 2011, "the merchant represented the transactions stating that they were valid, based on the sales drafts already provided."

The bank also wrote in that letter, "due to your initial interaction with the merchant, this case is considered a non-fraud claim. Furthermore, you were unable to provide copies of the receipts for the initial transactions that you said you authorized."

McDevitt said the signatures on the receipts are not his and there is no record of the receipt he actually signed.

When asked whether a customer's proof that a signature does not match his is evidence of a lack of authenticity, Crawford said "every instance is unique."

"These are handled on a case-by-case basis," Crawford said.

In a letter dated May 13, 2011 from the bank provided by McDevitt, the bank said "Our attempts to resolve this matter with the merchant have been unsuccessful. We have exhausted all our available options. We can only suggest that you explore other avenues of recourse to obtain a refund and/or come to a more equitable solution with the merchant."

The bank, which followed the rules of fraud protection and also took measures in "good faith," stated that Visa "advised us that they have declined our arbitration case and have decided in favor of the merchant" on May 13, 2011."

Consumers should be aware of differences in fraud protection for credit cards and debit cards, Beverly Harzog, credit card expert with, said. With credit cards, the maximum liability for fraudulent charges is $50. If you report the loss or theft of your card before it's used, you're not liable for anything. In most cases, the $50 is also waived

"The rules for debit cards are different," she said. Harzog said if your debit card is lost or stolen, you have to report this within two business days to limit your liability to $50. If you don't report it within two days, you can be liable for $500. But if you don't report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days of receiving the statement showing the fraudulent transfer of money, your losses can be unlimited.

"If there are unauthorized charges on your debit card statement and you haven't lost the card or it hasn't been stolen, you have to report the fraudulent charges within 60 days of the date on the statement to limit your liability," Harzog said. "You're only liable for charges after that 60-day window if you fail to report it."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


2011 Was Worst Year for Suspected Financial Crimes on Record

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A tidal wave of fraud reports fed by an ingenious array of scams borne out of the mortgage crisis have swamped federal offices, which are investigating and prosecuting only a small percentage of the allegations.

In 2011, suspected instances of money laundering, consumer loan fraud, debit card fraud, mortgage loan fraud, casino fraud and other scams hit all-time highs, according to suspicious activity reports known as SARs submitted to the Treasury Department's Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

The SAR numbers have been fluctuating between 1.2 million and 1.3 million totals since 2007, but in 2011 they jumped up to more than 1.5 million.

"The financial meltdown that took place from 2007 to 2009 uncovered all the skeletons, what was taking place in the marketplace, from mortgage financing to Ponzi schemes," said Curt Novy, a mortgage and real estate analyst based in San Diego, Calif.

While providing a fertile ground for criminals, the financial crisis also lured those who might not have ever thought to commit a crime, according to Harry Cendrowski, a fraud and forensics consultant based in Chicago.  He said having a respected person with a financial portfolio suddenly faced with financial ruin creates a "perfect storm."

Between 2007 and 2011 there was a 74 percent increase in fraud cases where people working within a financial institution exploited internal controls for their own gain, according to a study by KPMG.

"I don't hesitate to tie this into the economy," said Tim Gallagher, chief of the financial crimes section of the FBI.  "There has been a lag time from the meltdown to now."

Gallagher attributed the steep increase in money laundering and mortgage loan fraud specifically to hucksters who scammed distressed homeowners.  Mortgage loan fraud has had the most dramatic surge over the past decade, going from 9,539 in 2001 to 93,564 in 2011, according to FinCEN figures.

As the fraud peaked in 2011, however, the FBI scaled back its fraud investigations, with just 2,691 cases -- or three percent -- of the more than 90,000 suspected mortgage loan fraud cases "under investigation," according to the FBI.

"About 70 percent of our cases are more than a million dollars.  We are going after big fish as far as putting cases together, and we're going after people on the inside because of fiduciary responsibility and the element of trust that they're violating and doing the most damage," Gallagher said.

The small number of federal investigations is somewhat bolstered by state and local authorities, who can also investigate and prosecute the crimes.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'Whistleblower' Says Mortgage Securitization Still Issue for US Homeowners

Courtesy Minh L. Pham(WASHINGTON) -- Lan Pham, an economist fired by the Congressional Budget Office two years ago, is still asking whether the watchdog agency appeared to "diminish or deny" the problem of foreclosure fraud while providing analysis to Congress.

As lawmakers enter budget season in Washington D.C., and wrangle over House Republicans' new budget blueprint, Pham is hoping to draw more attention to the housing market's woes.

"Why is one of the most powerful government agencies that can determine the direction of the nation's policies appearing to diminish or deny that the issue of mortgage securitization is a problem?" she said.  "If it is a problem, we have $7 trillion in mortgage-backed securities that has brought chaos to homeowners, whether or not they are in foreclosure."

Pham said questions like those have led attorneys general to reach the $25 billion foreclosure abuse deal announced last month, and could affect not just underwater homeowners across the country, but the entire U.S. housing market.

With a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, Pham worked for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for only two and a half months before she was fired in December 2010.  In Pham's termination letter, her supervisor, Deborah Lucas, CBO's assistant director, said "a number of performance issues are the basis for the decision."

But Pham said she was fired for providing an analysis about the banking sector and foreclosure fraud issues involving mortgage-backed securities and robosigning that she said displeased her bosses.  Pham said the main issues of foreclosure problems relate to securitization, the pooling of mortgages that collateralize mortgage-backed securities, and the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, which has electronic records of ownership on about 65 million mortgages -- about half in the country.

In her first interview since releasing a letter addressed to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, through the website Zero Hedge on Thursday, Pham said she is less concerned with losing her job, but rather with bringing more transparency to her former employer.

"Because you see the losses around the country from those who purchased homes with banks foreclosing on homeowners that don't have the title to the mortgage, this is an issue where financially we're talking about a $7 trillion mortgage-backed securities problem," Pham, who is looking for employment, said.  "To me, talking about my career is just beside the point."

Pham wrote a letter to Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, dated Feb. 23, 2011, asking for help and explaining her story and writing that "there is room for doubt" about the perception of the CBO as objective and non-partisan.


Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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