LAWFUEL – Law News Network – Law Jobs Network – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Jonathan I. Solomon, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office, the Jupiter Police Department and the Office of the State Attorney, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Anti-Money Laundering Task Force, announced that defendants Steven Michael May, Jr., Joseph John Vaquera and Christopher William Cook were arrested and charged today with mail fraud for their participation in a nationwide scheme to defraud retail businesses throughout the United States. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.
According to the charging document, the defendants established business lines of credit with more than thirty businesses based on false and fraudulent financial information, and then used the fraudulently obtained lines of credit to obtain assorted high-end merchandise, which they subsequently sold on eBay. During the course of the scheme, the defendants defrauded more than 30 businesses of more than $1.8 million.
The criminal complaint alleges that in approximately 2003, the defendants began incorporating businesses throughout the United States and leasing virtual office suites for these businesses. Each business had a virtual office in the state in which it was incorporated. The virtual office suites provided the defendants with addresses and telephone numbers to make it appear that the businesses were legitimate entities, when, in fact, they were not. Using e-mail and/or facsimiles, the defendants applied for business-to-business lines of credit with numerous retail companies throughout the United States. To date, the Government has identified thirty-four (34) victim businesses.
When applying for credit, the defendants allegedly provided the victim businesses with financial information and trade and bank references. In most instances, the telephone and fax numbers provided for the trade and bank references were numbers controlled by the defendants. In this way, the defendants were able to respond to credit inquiries by the victim businesses.
The financial information provided by the defendants was also false and fraudulent. In most instances, the financial statements were completely fabricated. Indeed, many of the financial statements were virtually identical, with only several numbers on each statement differing. In some instances, the financial statements provided for different companies were identical.
Based on the fraudulent financial information, the victim businesses extended credit to the defendants. The defendants then placed orders for high-end merchandise, including computer monitors, flat-screen televisions, DVD camcorders, electronic equipment and cameras, and directed the victim businesses to ship the merchandise to either virtual office suites, commercial mailboxes, or storage facilities controlled by the defendants. To conceal their involvement in the scheme and to frustrate the victim businesses’ efforts to locate them, the defendants would sometimes have the victim businesses ship merchandise to a commercial mailbox or virtual office located in one state and then have the commercial mailbox or virtual office immediately re-ship the goods to a different commercial mailbox, virtual office or storage facility located in Palm Beach County.
After the merchandise was shipped, the victim businesses would send invoices to the defendants’ companies requesting payment. The defendants never remitted any payments to the victim businesses. Instead, the defendants would ignore the billing notices or send “lulling” e-mails in which they promised to pay; however, no payments were ever made.
Two of the defendants, May and Vaquera, maintained seller accounts on eBay. Beginning in September 2004, May and Vaquera allegedly began selling the same types of merchandise which were fraudulently obtained from the victim companies on their eBay sites. The merchandise was typically advertised as “Brand New, Never Opened, Never Used.”
Mr. Acosta commended the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Jupiter Police Department and the State Attorney’s Anti-Money Laundering Task Force for their investigation of this matter.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls . Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov/ or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov/ .