Asset Search/Fraud Investigation

Back to Back Loan Image

Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce was my first Asset Search Blog post highlighting back-to-back loans (i.e. a fully collateralized loan in which the borrower and the lender are one and the same). That post mentioned a divorcing husband who hid millions from his wife and the IRS, by claiming he was indebted because of an arm’s length business loan. The husband’s claim about owing money to an arm’s length lender was false, as the loan was back-to-back. In other words, the husband hid millions by secretly arranging to be both the borrower and lender of the loan; and by pretending to be in debt.

Federal prosecutors similarly discussed back–to-back loans in their tax fraud case against Los Angeles, California businessman Masud Sarshar. According to prosecutors, Mr. Sarshar hid tens of millions of dollars from the IRS by using two back-to-back loans and offshore bank accounts in Israel and Hong Kong. Mr. Sarshar supposedly maintained the offshore bank accounts in the names of intermediaries (i.e. nominees). Prosecutors also said an Israeli banker delivered offshore bank account statements to Mr. Sarshar by smuggling them into the U.S. on a USB drive hidden in a necklace.

To avoid being flagged as an American by the offshore banks, Mr. Sarshar is believed to have used Israeli and Iranian passports to open his offshore accounts. When Mr. Sarshar mentioned his offshore accounts during conversations with his Israeli bankers, Mr. Sarshar also reportedly spoke in code. On 3/13/17 Mr. Sarshar was sentenced to 24 months in prison for conspiring to defraud the U.S. and for seeking to impair/impede administration of internal revenue laws. Mr. Sarshar’s 8/1/16 plea agreement can be read here.

Image: Ionut Catalin Parvu/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2017 Fred L. Abrams

computer research

Full-blown asset searches rely on computer-based research; private investigators; and human intelligence from depositions, witness interviews and informant’s tips. Computer-based research is also the cornerstone of most kinds of asset searches. This research may track the ownership of assets ranging from valuable automobiles to patents or other intellectual property.

An Asset Search Via Data Brokers Like IDI, Inc.” is one of my posts about computer-based research. “A Low-Cost Asset Search” meanwhile, discusses how you can try to find hidden assets by using computer-based research.¹ “A Low-Cost Asset Search” even mentions some asset searches you can perform for free. Another free computer-based research tool is the Corporationwiki website.

Corporationwiki identifies relationships between people and corporations. It and other computer-based research might help you spot intermediaries, (i.e. nominees), suspected of hiding a beneficial owner’s assets. Prosecutors in Warsaw, Poland used Corporationwiki in at least one case in 2009, to try to detect assets hidden through an alleged money laundering scheme. This particular case & the prosecutor’s use of Corporationwiki, is mentioned at page 2 of the request for legal assistance/letter rogatory available below.

(CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO READ THE LETTER ROGATORY)

2009 Letter Rogatory Poland

¹“A Low-Cost Asset Search” contains material courtesy of  L.L. Jones, Concealing Assets In Bankruptcy: What Are the Consequences And How Do Trustees Find The Assets?, Association of the Bar of the City of New York (Presentation: April 24, 2008).

First image: courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by Jennie

Copyright 2017 Fred L. Abrams

3 HInts About Asset Searches

A divorcing spouse; judgment creditor; bankruptcy creditor; or a beneficiary under a trust or will; may face an adversary hiding assets through nominees (i.e. intermediaries). See cf., Fourth Inv. LP v. United States, 720 F.3d 1058, 1070 (9th Cir. 2013) (six-part test for nominee ownership applied to tax lien case). An adversary can hide real estate, automobiles, jewelry; and offshore bank accounts by titling them in the names of nominees. Nominees are easily accessed through nominee incorporation services like the one at the “Anonymous Panama Corporation” webpage.

The “Anonymous Panama Corporation” webpage can be used to form a Panamanian shell company with “nominee directors.” The initial fee for this service is $1200. The webpage suggests that one can “save taxes or protect…assets” by forming a Panamanian shell company:

[Y]our personal information will not be available in any government records, but [sic] still maintain complete control over your corporation. The Nominee Directors will not have control over your corporation and can be replaced at any time.

This type of corporation is a good choice if your objective is to save taxes or protect your assets. The actual owner of this corporation is not registered in public records.

Shell companies are not the only things that can be utilized as nominees. Lawyers; accountants; bankers; financial advisors; paramours; family members and trusts can be nominees. In the criminal prosecution called USA v. James S. Faller II, Case #: 13−cr−00029, the Court discussed how a nominee trust could be part of a scheme to hide assets from the IRS. Pages 13-14 of the Court’s 4/30/15 Memorandum Opinion and Order highlighted Mr. Faller’s alleged misuse of nominees.

Mr. Faller from Russell Springs, Kentucky, relied on “nominee names” to evade taxes, an IRS Special Agent’s affidavit claimed at ¶68. Prosecutors argued Mr. Faller evaded taxes by titling his home and bank account in the name of a trust believed to be Mr. Faller’s nominee. Mr. Faller was convicted of tax fraud and on 1/29/16 Mr. Faller was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment. Although Mr. Faller appealed his conviction, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the conviction at a 1/10/17 Opinion.

Image: Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2017 Fred L. Abrams

12 8 16 Post
This 34th post in the “Divorce & Hidden Money” series highlights ways assets may be hidden in a money laundering circuit.

The November 30th New York Times Magazine article “How To Hide $400 Million” described the divorce between Sarah Pursglove & Finnish internet tycoon Robert Oesterlund. A document from Mr. Oesterlund’s lender allegedly indicated Mr. Oesterlund’s net worth was $400 million, “How To Hide $400 Million” said. This article also said Mr. Oesterlund claimed during the divorce that the ‘net family property’ was only worth a few million dollars.

Ms. Pursglove however, did not believe this and tried to search for assets reportedly hidden by Mr. Oesterlund. Based on “How To Hide $400 Million,” Mr. Oesterlund was an ultra-high-net-worth spouse who allegedly hid assets through:

  1. gatekeepers (such as lawyers & bankers);
  2. multiple jurisdictions;
  3. offshore bank accounts;
  4. shell companies;
  5. & trusts.

These can all be used as laundering links which wash assets in a money laundering circuit. A money laundering circuit is shown at a chart on a webpage from FINTRAC, a Canadian financial intelligence unit. An ultra-high-net-worth spouse may place assets into a laundering circuit through: structuring bank deposits; money mules/bulk-cash smuggling; diamonds or other portable valuable commodities; false invoicing schemes (i.e. trade-based laundering); wire transfers; etc. How do you perform an asset search when these methods are used to hide assets? Click here for seven tips.

Image: red mango/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

11 27 16 Post

2/12/17 Update: It seems that after I published this post on 11/27/16, the Jamaican Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force, (“MOCA”), listed Mr. Peter Sangster as a fugitive. “The people on this list are wanted for serious and or violent crimes” MOCA’s website says. 

Forty-seven-year-old Peter Sangster of Cherry Gardens, Kingston 8, Jamaica, has been a local politician and businessman in Jamaica. After Jamaican authorities subjected telephone carrier Jamus Communications Ltd., (“Jamus”), to a levy, Mr. Sangster allegedly offered to help Jamus by procuring a “waiver” of payment. Mr. Sangster supposedly supplied Jamus with this waiver which was dated 1/9/2013. The waiver appeared to be signed by the then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. The Prime Minister’s signature on the waiver is now however, thought to be a forgery.  It also appears that Jamaican law does not provide for a waiver of payment regarding the levy.

In exchange for allegedly supplying Jamus with the waiver, Mr. Sangster may have had Jamus transfer over $150,000 U.S. dollars to 2 bank accounts in the United States. One of the bank accounts is believed to be titled “Sangster Group LLC,” maintained at Bank of America, 515 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. The other bank account was also at Bank of America and was thought to be titled “Peter and Tania Sangster.” Based on these allegations, MOCA investigated Mr. Sangster to determine whether he committed a forgery and larceny.

MOCA seemed to search for assets related to Mr. Sangster. MOCA sought corporate & banking records for “Sangster Group LLC.” MOCA similarly sought records for the “Peter and Tania Sangster” Bank of America account. On 10/6/16 a court in Delaware issued an order on behalf of MOCA, permitting a prosecutor to collect these records. The order authorized the prosecutor to gather the records listed on pp. 7-11 at the following letter rogatory/legal assistance request from Jamaica:¹

Letter Rogatory P Sangster
To Read The Letter Rogatory, Click On The Image Above

¹The letter rogatory/legal assistance request has been partly sanitized for privacy reasons.

First Image: Light And Dark Studio/Shutterstock.com

(Edited 2/12/17)

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

10 26 16 Post

If you are litigating against an adversary who is hiding assets from you, subpoenaing your adversary’s credit card statements might help you track the hidden assets. As my post “Secreting Assets Without A Border Trace” suggests, expenses listed at a credit card statement may lead you to your adversary’s assets. “Secreting Assets Without A Border Trace” is about tracking a Ponzi schemer’s illicit assets. The Ponzi schemer in that post could have: converted cash into diamonds; parked the diamonds in a Swiss security box (i.e. safe deposit box); and opened a secret bank account in Luxembourg.

The subpoena available below has language you can include at a subpoena for credit card records. The subpoena was issued to American Express by the Chapter 7 trustee in Michael Mastro’s bankruptcy case.  Along with credit card statements, the subpoena requested “[c]opies of all checks, money orders, electronic transfer records, and other documents showing the source and manner of each [credit card] payment…” Some of my other posts discussing subpoenas are “An Asset Search of A Lawyer Employed To Conceal Cash” & “Eliciting Evidence From Foreign Bank Witnesses.

American Express Subpoena

Image of torn paper & word subpoena: arfa adam/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

7402945976_8ca11c5515_z
This 11th post in my “Private Investigators” series focuses on how private investigators may use data brokers to search for your assets & other personal information.

The August 5th Bloomberg article “This Company Has Built a Profile on Every American Adult,” brings up IDI,Inc. The article suggests that IDI has built a profile about you on its idiCore database. Private investigators, debt collectors, lawyers & government authorities might access this database to search for your assets & other personal information. The end of the article also says “IDI’s marketing databases may help PIs predict people’s moves or digitally peek into their cars or medicine cabinets.” IDI could be collecting your personal information through data mining. How can data brokers like IDI mine data? They may analyze your clickstream, as mentioned by my May 11, 2015 post:

Data Brokers Searching For Your Assets, Bank Accounts & Other Personal Information?

As the Federal Trade Commission, (“FTC”), video depicted above reveals, data brokers (a.k.a. “information brokers”) and some other private sector businesses sell your highly personal information. The video says for example, your location, interests, prescriptions and medical history may all be “shared or sold.” Pages 22, 24, 34 & Appendix B-5 of a May 2014 FTC report similarly indicate that data brokers can search for your financial information including: where and when you open a bank account; estimated household income; the assets you own; loan history; credit card use and tax return transcripts.

Continue Reading Private Investigators: An Asset Search Via Data Brokers Like IDI,Inc.

Laundry List Post:ImageGovernmental authorities follow money trails in order to interdict assets hidden by narco-traffickers; money launderers; Ponzi schemers; tax fraudsters & other determined criminals. During your asset search, you can similarly follow a money trail to track assets which have been hidden from you. You might detect a money trail by scrutinizing data related to the person or business entity suspected of hiding assets.

You can collect this data in some situations, by issuing subpoenas; using compelled consent forms; or through additional legal tools. Below is the “Financial Investigations Checklist” & it includes a laundry list of items which contain data.¹ You may be able to collect some of the items the list mentions: bank account records; telephone records; utility company records; credit card statements & many others. Data at these kinds of items could conceivably help you follow a money trail to assets hidden from you.

(To Read The Financial Investigations Checklist, Click On The Following Image)


Financial Investigations Checklist

 

¹Financial Investigations Checklist, Courtesy of The United States Department of Justice.

First image: Picsfive/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

Trade-Based Laundering Photo

If your adversary is using a business entity to conceal assets from you, one thing to look for is trade-based money laundering. A June 2006 report by the Financial Action Task Force explains that trade-based laundering schemes can include: the over or under-invoicing of goods or services; the over or under-shipping of goods; falsely describing goods or services; or multiple invoicing.¹ You can search for assets hidden via trade-based laundering by spotting the red flags. Page 24 of the June 2006 report describes the red flags and some of them are:

  • a disparity between a shipped commodity’s bill of lading and its invoice.
  • a disparity between a commodity’s value as recorded on its invoice and fair market value.
  • the shipping of goods although there is no profit/economic benefit.
  • a shipment with a nexus to shell companies.
  • letters of credit related to a shipment that have been amended or extended repeatedly.
  • the type of shipped commodity is inconsistent with the importer’s/exporter’s ordinary business activities.
  • shipping to or from a high-risk geographical location (i.e. a jurisdiction especially vulnerable to money laundering).

Pages 9-20 of the June 2006 report also provide 12 case studies showing how trade-based money laundering can be used to conceal one’s assets. The August 24, 2007 plea agreement of Gene Haas might describe another case of trade-based money laundering. Mr. Haas entered this plea agreement after his arrest on June 19, 2006 for suspected tax fraud. Attachment A at the plea agreement says the Enmark Aerospace and Supermill companies had provided Mr. Haas with invoices for fictitious purchases.

According to Attachment A, Mr. Haas paid Enmark & Supermill millions of dollars pursuant to these invoices; and Mr. Haas then took business deductions for “cost of goods sold.” Attachment A also indicates that Enmark and Supermill eventually returned the millions, (less a 2% kick back fee), to Mr. Haas through Mr. Haas’ intermediary, CNC Associates, Inc. Stated differently, it seems that Enmark, Supermill and CNC Associates could have been employed as laundering links in a money laundering circuit. After Mr. Haas’ plea agreement, Mr. Haas was sentenced on November 5, 2007 to two years in prison for violating 18 U.S.C § 371. Mr. Haas additionally paid a $5 million dollar fine and over $70 million dollars in back taxes owed for 2000 and 2001.

¹ See p.4 at “Trade-Based Money Laundering,” Copyright © FATF/OECD. All rights reserved.

Image: Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2007-2016 Fred L. Abrams

Offshore Image 5:30:16
As this 31st post in the “Divorce & Hidden Money” series reveals, you may be able to employ letters rogatory to detect assets hidden offshore.

A letter rogatory is an application to a foreign tribunal. It seeks permission to serve process on or gather evidence from a foreign witness. If you are in a divorce in the United States, letters rogatory can usually help you collect evidence of offshore assets your spouse hid from you. You might use letters rogatory to search for assets which can include: bank accounts; real estate; valuable art; business entities; etc. My February 25, 2015 post mentioned the use of letters rogatory in relation to divorce/child support cases in New York.

The February 25, 2015 post discussed one ex-husband who for 30 years failed to pay spousal maintenance &/or child support to his ex-wife in New York. Since the ex-husband lived in places like Mexico, the Dominican Republic & Barbados, legal proceedings in New York did not get the ex-husband to pay his ex-wife. Had the ex-wife been able to afford it, she might have hired lawyers to seek the issuance of letters rogatory to search for the ex-husband’s offshore assets. You may similarly employ letters rogatory if you are in a divorce outside of the United States & your divorcing spouse hid assets from you in the United States.

These kinds of cases are highlighted at Part 1 & Part 2 of “Asset Searches In The U.S. For Divorces Brought Outside The U.S.”  Below is a translated copy of a letter rogatory arising out of a divorce in the Republic of Colombia at The 8th Family Court, in Barranquilla.¹ In connection with The Family Court’s distribution of community property from a marriage, the letter rogatory requests bank account/bank customer information at Bank of America in the United States.

Letter Rogatory Colomibia

¹The letter rogatory has been partly sanitized for privacy reasons.

Offshore Image With Cash: esfera/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams