Targeting the alleged proceeds of an international lottery scam, the U.S. Justice Department has asked a federal judge in Washington to authorize the government's seizure of more than $1.2 million in banks in the United Kingdom, Spain and Malaysia.
Justice Department lawyers in the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section said in court papers in Washington federal district court that an investigation uncovered an e-mail scam whose victims included senior citizens.
The scheme, which allegedly ran from November 2007 to August 2010, involved unsolicited e-mails that asked recipients to pay fees or taxes to receive the lottery bounty or other prizes, according to court records.
“In reality, the email recipient had not won any kind of prize,” Justice attorney Jeannette Gunderson of the Criminal Division said in the department’s forfeiture complaint (PDF). “The statements in the emails were wholly and materially fraudulent.”
Gunderson of the asset forfeiture and money laundering section said no prizes were ever awarded to victims who sent money to cover the bogus taxes associated with the award. One victim, an elderly man in Washington state, sent more than $868,000 to collect his prize.
Another victim, a 75-year-old structural engineer in California, transmitted $428,758 to the perpetrators of the scheme. The man told federal investigators he’d received an e-mail saying he won a $1 million prize from the Tourism Malaysia Lottery Program. The prize, he said, later increased to $10 million in follow-up correspondence.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Investigators said they received a search warrant for a Yahoo! e-mail account, court papers show. Agents who reviewed the account found copies of wire transfer receipts totaling $349,560 that were sent to Malaysia by the two victims.
Investigators identified more than 100 wire transfers made to 56 banks in the United Kingdom, Spain and Malaysia.
Justice lawyers said the 20 banks in Malaysia that received the wire transfers included HSBC, Alliance Bank and Ambank Berhad. In Spain, prosecutors said Bancaja Spain, La Caixa and Caja Madrid were among the 24 banks that received funds.
Prosecutors said the 12 recipient banks in the United Kingdom included HSBC, Alliance and Leicester, Barclays, Halifax Bank, National Westminster Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
"Each of these 111 wires was executed because the sender believed the payments were necessary to secure their respective prizes," Gunderson said. "Despite these payments, the senders have received no money in return."
Since the complaint was filed July 26, no potential claim to the funds has been lodged in Washington federal district court.