Department of Justice Begins Second Distribution of Funds Recovered Through Asset Forfeiture to Compensate Victims of Western Union Fraud Scheme, Bringing Total to Over $300 Million

The Department of Justice announced today that the Western Union Remission Fund began its second distribution of approximately $148 million in funds forfeited to the U.S. government from the Western Union Company (Western Union) to approximately 33,000 victims located in the United States and abroad. These victims, many of whom were elderly victims of consumer fraud and abuse, will be recovering the full amount of their losses.

This is the second in a series of payment distributions to occur in the Western Union remission.  The first distribution paid approximately $153 million to over 109,000 victims in March of this year.  The Department of Justice anticipates authorizing compensation for many more victims in the coming months.  The department is accepting petitions on an ongoing basis and will be providing potential victims who have not applied for remission the opportunity to apply.

“Through the tireless work of the Department of Justice, today 33,000 more individuals, including many elderly victims of the criminals who exploited Western Union’s deficient anti-money laundering controls, are being made whole through this distribution of an additional $148 million,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “Together with the first distribution, the department has now remitted more than $300 million to over 142,000 victims of this fraud.  These results reinforce the department’s commitment to compensating victims whenever possible.”

“After the first distribution of funds to victims of these nefarious scammers, I said that it was a good start,” said U.S. Attorney David J. Freed. “Today’s announcement marks another important event in this lengthy and complicated case.  While ensuring fair business practices and anti-fraud programs is certainly a worthy goal, our aim is always to compensate our victims. We credit the innovative and industrious efforts of our investigative partners and thank them for their sustained efforts to make the victims whole.”

“We are very pleased to deliver $148 million to provide financial justice for these thousands of victims,” said Damon E Wood, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s (USPIS) Philadelphia Division.  “This brings the total returned to victims to over $300 million.  Especially in these difficult times, the monies will hopefully provide relief for those who were scammed.  The Postal Inspection Service will continue to be at the forefront of protecting Americans from the scams that harm our most vulnerable citizens and delivering justice for all.”

In 2017, Western Union entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the United States.  Pursuant to the DPA, Western Union acknowledged responsibility for its criminal conduct, which included violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and aiding and abetting wire fraud, and agreed to forfeit $586 million, which has been made available to compensate victims of the international consumer fraud scheme through the remission process. Western Union simultaneously resolved a parallel civil investigation with the Federal Trade Commission.

In this scheme, fraudsters targeted consumers, including seniors, through multiple scams.  Three specific scams directed towards seniors include the grandparent scam, where the fraudster would pose as the victim’s relative in need of immediate money to avoid personal harm, lottery or sweepstakes scams, where the fraudster would tell the victim that they had won a large cash prize but had to pay fees such as taxes to claim the prize, and romance scams, where the fraudster would pose as an online love interest and request funds for a visit or for another purpose.  In each of these scams the fraudsters convinced their victims to send money through Western Union.

Certain owners, operators or employees of Western Union agent locations were complicit in the schemes.  Western Union aided and abetted the fraud scheme by failing to suspend or terminate complicit agents and by allowing them to continue to process fraud-induced monetary transactions.  Western Union fulfilled its obligations under the DPA and the court granted the motion to dismiss the information this year.

The Justice Department, through the Asset Forfeiture Program, works diligently to restore lost funds to victims of crime and acknowledges the significant assistance of the USPIS Philadelphia Division’s Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Office in the Western Union remission.  The victim compensation payments in the Western Union case would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section; the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the Central District of California, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Southern District of Florida.  The FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, IRS-Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Federal Reserve Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Office of Inspector General, and the Department of the Treasury Office of Inspector General provided valuable assistance.  

More information about the Western Union remission and its compensation to victims is available on the Western Union remission website at www.westernunionremission.com.  Further questions may be directed to the Western Union Remission Administrator by phone at 844-319-2124 or by email at info@WesternUnionRemission.com.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    What GAO Found GAO’s 2021 annual report identifies 112 new actions for Congress or executive branch agencies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. For example: The Office of Management and Budget should improve how agencies buy common goods and services—such as medical supplies and computers—by addressing data management challenges and establishing performance metrics to help save the federal government billions of dollars over the next 5 years, as well as potentially eliminate duplicative contracts. The National Nuclear Security Administration could implement cost savings programs to operate more effectively at its nuclear laboratory and production sites to potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars over approximately a five year period. The Department of Health and Human Services could improve coordination of its infectious disease modeling efforts to better identify any duplication and overlap among agencies, which could help them to better plan for and more efficiently respond to disease outbreaks. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could enhance third-party information reporting to increase compliance with tax laws and raise revenue. GAO has also previously suggested (1) providing IRS with authority to correct certain errors—with appropriate safeguards—in tax returns and (2) establishing requirements for paid tax return preparers to help improve the accuracy of tax returns. From 2011 to 2021, GAO has identified more than 1,100 actions to reduce costs, increase revenues, and improve agencies' operating effectiveness. GAO’s last report in May 2020 said progress made in addressing many of the actions identified from 2011 to 2019 had resulted in approximately $429 billion in financial benefits, including $393 billion that accrued through 2019 and $36 billion that was projected to accrue in future years. Since May 2020, at least tens of billions of dollars in additional financial benefits have been achieved. GAO estimates that tens of billions of additional dollars could be saved should Congress and executive branch agencies fully address open actions, including those that have potential financial benefits of $1 billion or more. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government has made an unprecedented financial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic recedes and the economy substantially recovers, Congress and the administration will need to develop and swiftly implement an approach to place the government on a sustainable long-term fiscal path. In the short term, opportunities exist for achieving billions of dollars in financial savings and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a wide range of federal programs in other areas. GAO has responded with annual reports to a statutory provision for it to identify and report on federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives—either within departments or government-wide—that have duplicative goals or activities. GAO also identifies areas that are fragmented or overlapping, as well as additional opportunities to achieve cost savings or enhance revenue collection. This statement discusses: the new areas identified in GAO’s 2021 annual report; and examples of open actions recommended to Congress or executive branch agencies with potential financial benefits of $1 billion or more. To identify what actions exist to address these issues, GAO reviewed and updated select prior work, including matters for congressional consideration and recommendations for executive action. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-6806 or lucasjudyj@gao.gov or Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or sagerm@gao.gov.
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  • Iran’s Efforts at Intimidation Must Not Be Rewarded
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  • Justice Department Requires Substantial Divestitures in Zen-Noh Acquisition of Grain Elevators from Bunge to Protect American Farmers
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it will require Zen-Noh Grain Corp. (ZGC) to divest nine grain elevators in nine geographic areas located in five states along the Mississippi River and its tributaries in order to proceed with its proposed $300 million acquisition of 35 operating and 13 idled grain elevators from Bunge North America Inc. 
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  • Maryland Lawyer Charged with Defrauding Financial Institutions and Other Entities to Obtain Control over $12.5 Million of Somali Sovereign Assets
    In Crime News
    A Maryland lawyer was charged in an 11-count indictment for his alleged role in a scheme to fraudulently obtain control of more than $12.5 million that was held by financial institutions on behalf of the Somali government, to improperly take part of those funds for fees and expenses, and to launder a portion of those funds to accounts for the benefit of his co-conspirators.
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  • Justice Department Settles with School Board to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with the School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida (the District). The settlement resolves claims that the district discriminated against work-authorized non-U.S. citizen employees by asking them to provide specific and unnecessary documentation showing their legal right to work, because of their immigration status, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). 
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  • Owner of Oil Chem Inc. Sentenced for Clean Water Act Violation
    In Crime News
    The president and owner of Oil Chem Inc. was sentenced today to 12 months in prison for violating the Clean Water Act stemming from illegal discharges of landfill leachate — totaling more than 47 million gallons — into the city of Flint sanitary sewer system over an eight and a half year period.
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  • K-12 Education: Observations on States’ School Improvement Efforts
    In U.S GAO News
    Many states use flexibilities in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended, in identifying low-performing schools and student subgroups (e.g., students from major racial and ethnic groups and low-income students) that need support and improvement. For example, states must identify all public high schools failing to graduate at least one-third of their students. According to GAO's state plan analysis, four states used ESEA's flexibilities to set higher graduation rates (i.e., 70-86 percent) for purposes of state accountability. Similarly, while ESEA requires states to identify schools in which students in certain subgroups are consistently underperforming, 12 states assess the performance of additional student subgroups. Although states are generally required to set aside a portion of their federal education funding for school improvement activities (see figure), states have some discretion in how they allocate these funds to school districts. According to GAO's survey, 27 states use a formula to allocate funds. GAO also found that in at least 34 states, all school districts that applied for federal funds received them in school year 2018-2019, but states had discretion regarding which schools within those districts to fund and at what level. Funding for School Improvement through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I, Part A Note: For more details, see figure 2 in GAO-21-199. A majority of the 50 states and the District of Columbia responding to our survey reported having at least moderate capacity to support school districts' school improvement activities. Education provides various types of technical assistance to build local and state capacity such as webinars, in-person training, guidance, and peer networks. About one-half of states responding to GAO's survey sought at least one type of technical assistance from Education's program office and various initiatives, and almost all of those found it helpful. For example, Education's Regional Educational Laboratories (REL) help states use data and evidence, access high-quality research to inform decisions, identify opportunities to conduct original research, and track progress over time using high-quality data and methods. Several states most commonly reported finding the following assistance by RELs to be helpful: in-person training (26), webinars (28), and reviews of existing research studies to help select interventions (24). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires states to have statewide accountability systems to help provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps high-quality education. These systems must meet certain federal requirements, but states have some discretion in how they design them. For example, ESEA requires states to identify low-performing schools and student subgroups for support and improvement. Senate Report 115-289 accompanying the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2019, includes a provision for GAO to review states' school improvement activities. This report addresses (1) how states identify and allocate funds for schools identified for support and improvement; and (2) the extent to which states have capacity to support districts' school improvement activities and how helpful states find Education's technical assistance. GAO analyzed the most current approved state accountability plans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia as of September 2020. The information in these plans predates the COVID-19 pandemic and represents a baseline from which to compare school improvement activities going forward. GAO also surveyed and received responses from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. GAO also conducted follow-up interviews with officials in three states selected based on variation in reported capacity and geographic diversity. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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  • Four Members of Los Angeles-Based Fraud Ring Indicted for COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    Four individuals were charged in an indictment for their alleged participation in a scheme to submit at least 35 fraudulent loan applications seeking over $5.6 million in COVID-19 relief guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin Delivers Remarks on Domestic Terrorism
    In Crime News
    Thank you, Marc. Before I begin, I’d like to address an important issue: the reports of horrific attacks on Asian Americans across the country. I want to be clear here: No one in America should fear violence because of who they are of what they believe. Period. These types of attacks have no place in our society. We will not tolerate any form of domestic terrorism or hate-based violent extremism, and we are committed to putting a stop to it.
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  • Justice Department Awards Over $54 Million to Support Wellness and Safety of Law Enforcement Officers
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs today announced it has awarded funding totaling over $54 million to provide services that protect officers and improve overall public safety. OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded grants to law enforcement departments, local jurisdictions, and training and technical assistance organizations throughout the United States.
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  • Pharmacy Owner Pleads Guilty to $6.5 million Health Care Fraud Schemes
    In Crime News
    A New York woman pleaded guilty today to perpetrating schemes to defraud health care programs, including obtaining more than $6.5 million from Medicare Part D Plans and Medicaid drug plans.
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  • The United States Takes Further Action Against Enablers of Venezuelan Oil Transactions, Including Sanctions Evasion Network
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  • Former Government Contractor Sentenced for Role in Bribery and Kickback Scheme
    In Crime News
    A former government contractor was sentenced today for his role in a bribery and kickback scheme where he paid bribes to secure U.S. Army contracts.
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  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Efforts to Promote Diversity and Inclusion
    In U.S GAO News
    In 2019, the number of women on the boards of directors at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—two government-sponsored enterprises (enterprises)—were five and three, respectively, slightly higher than in 2011. Female directors held leadership positions on the enterprises' boards for the first time in 2019, serving as vice chair at Fannie Mae and chair at Freddie Mac. The percentage of women in senior management positions remained relatively consistent for 2011 and 2018, while minority representation was higher in 2018 than in 2011 (see figure). The enterprises have implemented leading practices to support workforce diversity, such as career and networking events to recruit diverse populations and employee mentorship programs. Share of Women and Minorities in Senior Management at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, 2011 and 2018 Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used diverse broker-dealers (such as minority- and women-owned) for financial transactions to a limited extent. In 2019, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both paid about 6 percent of their financial transaction fees to diverse broker-dealers. The enterprises have taken steps to work with diverse broker-dealers more often, such as by lowering some capital requirements to allow participation by typically smaller, less-capitalized diverse broker-dealers. Broker-dealer representatives GAO interviewed said that enterprises had taken steps to increase their participation. However, some representatives noted that additional performance feedback and data on how they compare to larger firms would help them understand what business areas they could improve to meet standards for handling additional, more complex products. The enterprises said that some of the information on other firms is proprietary. In 2017, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) began reviewing the diversity and inclusion efforts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as part of its annual examinations of the enterprises. In 2017, FHFA found the enterprises generally took steps to promote diversity and inclusion but made recommendations to improve both enterprises' programs. In response, the enterprises have directed more attention and resources to diversity efforts. FHFA officials told GAO the agency planned to review the diversity and inclusion of the enterprises' financial transactions in late 2020 and would update its examination manual to include a focus on activities in this area. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored enterprises regulated by FHFA that buy and pool mortgages into mortgage-backed securities. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 requires the enterprises to promote diversity and inclusion in employment and related activities. GAO was asked to review the enterprises' diversity and inclusion efforts. This report examines, among other things, (1) trends in the diversity of the enterprises' boards and senior management; (2) the extent to which the enterprises used diverse broker-dealers and implemented practices to promote more diversity; and (3) FHFA oversight of the enterprises' diversity and inclusion efforts. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed enterprise and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data on the enterprises' workforces, boards, and broker-dealers; and reviewed FHFA and enterprise policies and regulations and previous GAO reports on these issues. GAO also interviewed FHFA and enterprise staff and a nongeneralizable sample of external stakeholders knowledgeable about broker-dealer diversity. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.
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  • Former Commander of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Sentenced to Prison
    In Crime News
    A former Commander of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison following his multiple convictions of obstructing justice and making false statements, in connection with the death of a civilian at the naval base.
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  • Request Denied for Preliminary Injunction on the Administration’s Landmark New Regulations Implementing under the National Environmental Policy Act
    In Crime News
    On Friday, Sept. 11, Judge James T. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the Administration’s landmark new regulations implementing under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which will modernize environmental review, enhance the information-gathering process, and facilitate more meaningful public participation in the protection of our environment. These regulations had not been subject to a major revision since 1978, when they were first promulgated, and they were in need of modernization to improve the infrastructure permitting process.
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