Indian-American jailed for 14 years for extortion

New York, July 9: An Indian-American has been jailed for more than 14 years and fined USD one million for running a massive extortion ring from India-based call centres in which he and his co-conspirators impersonated American officials and threatened to arrest victims unless they made payments.

Sahil Patel (36) of Pennsylvania was also sentenced to three years of supervised release following the completion of his 14 and a half year prison term.

He had pleaded guilty in January 2015 to his role in organizing the US side of a massive fraud and extortion ring run through various "call centers" located in India, through which he and his coconspirators impersonated FBI and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials and threatened victims with arrest and financial penalties unless they made payments to avoid purported charges.

Patel and his co-conspirators also used several layers of wire transactions in order to conceal the destination and nature of the extorted payments, which totaled at least USD 1.2 million.

In imposing the sentence here yesterday, US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said there was need to impose a "very serious sentence" to deter others from committing similar crimes.

"The nature of this crime robbed people of their identities and their money in a way that causes people to feel they have been almost destroyed," Hellerstein said.

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said Patel's elaborate scheme involved impersonating law enforcement officers and using intimidation and fear to bilk over a million dollars from hundreds of unsuspecting victims.

Assistant Director in Charge of New York FBI's Field Office Diego Rodriguez said the "duplicitous" consumer fraud scheme preyed on the vulnerabilities of victims who were forced to pay false penalties for fear of retribution.

"Wreaking havoc on hundreds of innocent Americans, Patel and his co-conspirators also called into question the integrity of the federal law enforcement community by falsely portraying themselves as government officials," he said.

According to the superseding indictment, from December 2011 through the day of his arrest in December 2013, Patel participated as a leader in a sophisticated scheme to intimidate and defraud hundreds of innocent victims of hundreds of dollars apiece.

Throughout the course of the fraud, telephone call centers located in India hired English-speaking employees to place telephone calls to individuals living in the US.

Armed with long lists of potential victims, referred to by Patel and his co-conspirators as "lead sheets", the India-based callers systematically placed thousands of calls to individuals in the US to intimidate the call recipients into providing a payment to the co-conspirators.