Authorities are looking for two fugitives named in a new indictment alleging illegal money transfer activity related to romance scams | USAO-CDCA
LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury indictment released this week charges two Chinese nationals with operating an illegal money transfer business that moved funds from China to the United States, in some cases using the proceeds of scams to provide money to their US-based customers.
A four-count superseding indictment filed Wednesday charges two people currently wanted by the FBI. The new indictment, which replaces an indictment filed in 2018, charges the two defendants with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transfer business and witnessing tampering offenses.
The defendants in this case are Dianwei Wang, 31, and Zhili “Ethan” Song, 36, who both previously resided in West Covina. Wang and Song are fugitives.
Wang and Song allegedly operated an “informal value transfer system” (IVTS), which the indictment describes as “a network of individuals who receive funds from a customer in a single location for the purpose of provision of roughly equivalent funds (less a fee) to the client in another location, often in a different country.” An IVTS may be known by different names, including “fei ch’ien” in China and “hawala” in Middle East.
As part of the scheme alleged in the indictment, Wang and Song told their IVTS clients to deposit money into Chinese bank accounts they controlled or had access to with the promise that the money – less their fees – would be deposited in accounts designated by their clients in the United States.
Over approximately eight months in 2017, Wang and Song transferred or attempted to transfer approximately $2 million from China to the United States for their IVTS clients, the indictment says.
“To fulfill their agreements to provide U.S. dollar-denominated funds to IVTS clients in the United States, defendants Wang and Song would use funds they allegedly obtained from third parties, including romance scam victims,” according to the indictment.
Wang allegedly ordered people associated with the online scammers to send him checks or wire funds from romance scam victims, most of whom were elderly. In some cases, Wang allegedly ordered people associated with the scammers to ask victims to send checks directly to him.
Over a six-month period in 2017, in 22 transactions detailed in the indictment, Wang and Song caused romance scam victims to send nearly $1.1 million to them or their IVTS clients. .
Wang and Song also allegedly lied to the FBI in late 2017 when asked about wire transfers to a Chinese national residing in Southern California. Both defendants are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice for telling the third Chinese national to falsely tell the FBI that she was buying a house with Wang in order to explain the wire transfers and support their own false claims. to FBI agents. Counts three and four of the indictment separately charge Wang and Song with tampering with witnesses.
More than $450,000 in funds seized from accounts associated with the third Chinese national are subject to ongoing civil asset forfeiture proceedings.
An indictment contains allegations that an accused has committed a crime. Any defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court.
The charge of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transfer business carries a maximum statutory sentence of five years in federal prison. The charges of obstructing justice and tampering with witnesses each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
The FBI previously seized about $1.9 million from accounts controlled by Wang, Song and other Chinese nationals. No claims were made to approximately $376,000 seized from Wang’s accounts, and that money was forfeited to the United States. The United States intends to seek forfeiture of the remaining funds.
The FBI is investigating this case.
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Wang or Song should call their local FBI office, or the nearest US embassy or consulate. In Los Angeles, the FBI can be reached at (310) 477-6565.
Romance scams occur when a criminal assumes a false identity online to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim. Some victims of romance scams become knowing or unwitting participants in other scams, agreeing to receive money into their accounts and transferring the money to third parties as instructed by their scamming contact. Never send money, or receive and transfer money for someone who has only communicated with you online or by phone. If you or someone you know is caught up in a romance scam, stop sending money and report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) or the FBI.
Assistant United States Attorney Monica E. Tait of the Major Fraud Section is prosecuting the criminal case, and Assistant United States Attorney Katharine Schonbachler of the Asset Forfeiture Section s deals with confiscation cases.