U.S. Law Enforcement Takes Action Against Approximately 2,300 Money Mules In Global Crackdown On Money Laundering

The U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and six other federal law enforcement agencies announced the completion of the third annual Money Mule Initiative, a coordinated operation to disrupt the networks through which transnational fraudsters move the proceeds of their crimes.  Money mules are individuals who assist fraudsters by receiving money from victims of fraud and forwarding it to the fraud organizers, many of whom are located abroad.  Some money mules know they are assisting fraudsters, but others are unaware that their actions enable fraudsters’ efforts to swindle money from consumers, businesses, and government unemployment funds.  Europol announced a simultaneous effort, the European Money Mule Action (EMMA) today.

Over the last two months, U.S. law enforcement agencies took action against over 2,300 money mules, far surpassing last year’s effort, which acted against over 600 money mules.  This year, actions occurred in every state in the country.  The initiative announced today targeted money mules involved in a wide range of schemes including lottery fraud, romance scams, government imposter fraud, technical support fraud, business email compromise or CEO fraud, and unemployment insurance fraud.  Many of these schemes target elderly or vulnerable members of society.

“Money mules fuel fraud against some of America’s most vulnerable populations. Without the help of these money mules, many foreign fraud enterprises find it difficult to profit off of U.S. victims,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “As this initiative demonstrates, the Department of Justice is committed to disrupting money mule networks, taking actions against more money mules this year than ever before, in an effort to cut off the flow of funds from American consumers and businesses to transnational criminal organizations.”

Eight federal law enforcement agencies participated in this year’s effort. Led by the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the participating agencies include the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, and U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

Some highlights from this year’s efforts are:

  • Actions were taken to halt the conduct of approximately 2,300 money mules, spanning 92 federal districts.
  • Law enforcement served approximately 2,000 money mules with letters warning the money mules that they were facilitating fraud and could face civil or criminal consequences for continuing their actions. Agents conducted over 450 interviews.
  • On approximately 30 instances, agents seized assets or facilitated the return of victim funds. Among the asset seizures was a 2019 Lamborghini, which was seized as part of an investigation into a business email compromise scheme. 
  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service filed 14 administrative actions requiring money mules to cease facilitating fraud.
  • U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Consumer Protection Branch filed 17 civil injunctive actions seeking court orders requiring money mules to stop facilitating fraudulent activity. Districts filing those actions include the Western District of Washington, District of South Carolina, Middle District of Florida, Southern District of Florida, Central District of California, Northern District of New York, and District of Colorado.

Additionally, more than 35 individuals were criminally charged or arrested for their roles in receiving victim payments and forwarding the fraud proceeds to accomplices or laundering fraud proceeds. Cases include:

  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California indicted three individuals for collecting parcels containing victim proceeds in a government imposter scheme.
  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland indicted three individuals for opening bank accounts using falsified documents for the purposes of facilitating a business email compromise scam.
  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas indicted an individual for facilitating a lottery fraud scheme. The indictment also seeks to forfeit over $1.2 million.
  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio indicted two money mules who facilitated a grandparents scam.
  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia charged a money mule who laundered gift cards purchased by fraud victims.

Additional criminal charges were brought by U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Southern District of Florida, Western District of Pennsylvania, Western District of North Carolina, Southern District of Texas, the Southern District of Mississippi, and the District of New Jersey

The above charges are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

“The success of the Money Mule Initiative is the culmination of the hard work by and coordination between the FBI and our federal, state, local, and international partners,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.  “This campaign has resulted in hundreds of criminal arrests worldwide and justice for countless victims.  Today’s announcement should send a clear message to those engaged in this type of criminal activity: they are not outside the reach of law enforcement, and the FBI and its partners will relentlessly pursue them in order to protect the American people.”

“The Postal Inspection Service has zero tolerance for fraudsters who use the U.S. Mail to transport funds from scammed victims,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale.  “Postal Inspectors use cutting-edge technology to build strong cases and campaigns like those announced today, which make significant progress towards disrupting money mule networks.  Postal Inspectors and our law enforcement partners will be relentless in the pursuit of criminal organizations that perpetrate these schemes.”

The agencies participating in the Money Mule Initiative and community partners are undertaking an outreach campaign to increase awareness of how fraudsters use and recruit money mules. U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country, through their Elder Justice Coordinators, will be reaching out to their communities to educate the public about money mules.  AmeriCorp Seniors (formerly Senior Corps) will be working to increase awareness of how money mules facilitate fraud and how consumers can avoid unwittingly assisting fraud schemes.

Additionally, the American Bankers Association will be engaging with its members on money mules and the role of financial institutions in addressing the problem.  The Department of Justice will also be distributing resources for state and local law enforcement on identifying, disrupting, investigating, and prosecuting money mules.

To find public education materials, as well as information about how fraudsters use and recruit money mules, please visit www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch/money-mule-initiative

Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors.  In January 2020, the department designated “Preventing and Disrupting Transnational Elder Fraud” as an Agency Priority Goal, one of its top four priorities.  In March 2020, the department announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 400 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep.  The department has also conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act. 

The department’s extensive efforts to combat elder fraud seek to halt the billions of dollars seniors lose each year to fraud schemes, including those perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations.  The best method for prevention, however, is sharing information about the various types of elder fraud schemes with relatives, friends, neighbors, and other seniors who can use that information to protect themselves.

If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).  This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps.  Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis.  Reporting is the first step.  Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses.  The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.

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    The Department of State (State) Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (State/INL) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided sufficient documentation for GAO to conclude that they followed most key practices for monitoring rule of law assistance for the awards we reviewed from selected countries. However, the agencies did not provide sufficient documentation demonstrating that they followed other key practices. Overall, State/INL followed these practices in most cases and USAID did so in almost all cases. Specifically, GAO's review of 19 State/INL and USAID projects found that USAID in all cases, and State/INL in most cases, followed key practices for planning a monitoring approach, such as developing project goals, objectives, and performance indicators. However, State/INL did not consistently demonstrate that project representatives included project goals and objectives in monitoring plans, and did not consistently identify risks in those plans (see fig.). Furthermore, neither agency could demonstrate that project representatives consistently assessed and approved monitoring reports from implementing partners. Following key monitoring practices helps to ensure that agencies stay well-informed of project performance and take corrective action when necessary, and that projects achieve their intended results. Without complete documentation, management cannot be sure that these practices are being followed. State/INL and USAID Alignment with Key Practices for Monitoring Rule of Law Assistance State and USAID have various processes to conduct, share, and use rule of law project evaluations to improve future efforts. Both agencies disseminate evaluations through online systems, briefings, and presentations, and have established approaches to track the implementation of evaluation recommendations, such as through spreadsheets or other documentation. The agencies use these evaluations in various ways to inform project design and strategic planning. Rule of law strengthens protection of fundamental rights and serves as a foundation for democratic governance and economic growth. According to State, strengthening judicial and legal systems in certain countries is vital to U.S. national security interests. State and USAID allocated over $2.7 billion for rule of law assistance overseas from fiscal years 2014 through 2018. GAO was asked to review monitoring and evaluation of U.S. rule of law assistance around the world. This report examines, among other objectives, the extent to which the agencies followed key practices for monitoring rule of law projects in selected countries, and processes agencies have in place to use evaluations to inform future rule of law assistance. GAO analyzed relevant laws and agency policies and other documents, and interviewed officials in Washington, D.C., and four countries—Colombia, Kosovo, Liberia, and the Philippines—selected based on funding amounts and other factors. GAO recommends that State/INL establish procedures to ensure project goals, objectives, and risks are identified in monitoring plans. GAO also recommends that State/INL establish and USAID enhance procedures to ensure project staff assess and approve monitoring reports. State and USAID concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Chelsa Kenney Gurkin at (202) 512-2964 or gurkinc@gao.gov.
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  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Information on the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has taken steps to implement its Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP)—a dual-purpose program for navigation improvements and ecosystem restoration along the Upper Mississippi River system. Specifically, in 2004 the Corps identified 24 navigation improvement projects and 1,010 ecosystem restoration projects and proposed a plan for implementing them. For example, the Corps plans to construct or extend 12 locks to facilitate commercial barge traffic along the river system (see fig.), which the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin have generally relied on as their principal conduit for export-bound agricultural products. The Corps also plans to restore floodplains along the river system and backwaters that provide habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife. While the total estimated program cost is $7.9 billion, as of October 2020, the Corps has initiated technical studies and designs for 47 NESP projects at a cost of approximately $65 million. Barge Tow at Lock and Dam 15 in Rock Island, Illinois However, the Corps has identified several challenges facing the program, and it has taken steps to mitigate them. Specifically, the Corps was unable to implement NESP projects for 7 years because the program did not receive funding in fiscal years 2011 through 2017, in part because the Corps identified other projects as higher priorities. To mitigate this challenge, the Corps reprogrammed funding to help ensure projects could be executed when funds became available. Another challenge is that the Corps has not yet established partnership agreements that are needed for some NESP ecosystem projects. Corps officials said that about 15 to 20 percent of the ecosystem projects will require partnership agreements in which partners commit to share 35 percent of the project costs, typically through the purchase of land for the project. The officials said that partners may be reluctant to make financial commitments to projects while NESP funding is uncertain. Furthermore, the partnership agreements can take up to 18 months to put in place. To help expedite program implementation, Corps officials said they have pursued projects in fiscal year 2020 that can begin without a commitment from project partners. The Upper Mississippi River system provides approximately $1 billion in annual benefits to the nation’s economy through boating, fishing, and other uses, according to a Corps report. It also supports more than 2.5 million acres of aquatic, wetland, forest, grassland, and agricultural habitats. In 1986, Congress declared its intent to recognize the system as a nationally significant commercial navigation system and a nationally significant ecosystem. However, the Upper Mississippi River’s navigation system has faced significant delays in commercial boating and barge traffic, and human activity has caused a decline in environmental quality, according to a 2004 Corps report. The Corps initiated studies in 1989 and 1990 to identify ways to improve the river system. The Corps issued a feasibility report in 2004 that identified improvement projects, and in 2007 Congress formally authorized NESP and the projects identified in the report. GAO was asked to review NESP. This report describes (1) the steps the Corps has taken to implement NESP and (2) the challenges the Corps has identified to fully implementing the program and steps the Corps is taking to address these challenges. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed Corps reports, documents, and data from fiscal year 2005—the year in which the Corps began implementing NESP projects—through fiscal year 2020. GAO also interviewed Corps officials. For more information, contact Mark Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or gaffiganm@gao.gov.
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    Good afternoon and thank you for joining us.  Today, we are pleased to announce that the Department of Justice and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation — better known as Amtrak — have reached a comprehensive settlement agreement to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).  Through this agreement, Amtrak has committed to fix inaccessible passenger rail stations across the Country and to pay $2.25 million to passengers with disabilities who have been denied equal access to Amtrak stations between 2013 and today.
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  • Vivint Smart Homes Inc. to Pay $3.2 Million to Resolve Allegations of False Statements to Federally Insured Bank
    In Crime News
    Vivint Smart Home Inc. (Vivint), based in Provo, Utah, has agreed to pay the United States $3.2 million to resolve allegations under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) that Vivint employees made false statements to secure financing for customers’ purchases of Vivint’s home monitoring products, the Justice Department announced today. FIRREA imposes civil penalties on any person or entity that violates certain predicate federal statutes.
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  • Medicaid: CMS Needs More Information on States’ Financing and Payment Arrangements to Improve Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    States and the federal government share in financing Medicaid, a health care program for low-income and medically needy individuals. States finance the nonfederal share with state general funds and other sources, such as taxes on health care providers and funds from local governments. GAO's analysis showed a change in how states finance their Medicaid programs. In particular, states relied on provider taxes and local government funds for about 28 percent, or $63 billion, of the estimated $224 billion total nonfederal share of Medicaid payments in state fiscal year 2018—7 percentage points more than state fiscal year 2008. Nonfederal Share of Medicaid Payments from Provider Taxes and Local Government Funds, State Fiscal Years 2008 and 2018 Note: Percentages do not add up due to rounding. Furthermore, GAO estimated that states' reliance on provider taxes and local government funds decreased states' share of net Medicaid payments (total state and federal payments) and effectively increased the federal share of net Medicaid payments by 5 percentage points in state fiscal year 2018. It also resulted in smaller net payments to some providers after the taxes and local government funds they contribute to their payments are taken into account. While net payments are smaller, the federal government's contribution does not change. This effectively shifts responsibility for a larger portion of Medicaid payments to the federal government and away from states. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—which oversees Medicaid—collects some information on states' sources of funds and payments, but it is not complete, consistent, or sufficiently documented, which hinders the agency's oversight. For example, CMS does not require states to report on the source of the nonfederal share for all payments. Absent complete, consistent, and sufficiently documented information about all Medicaid payments, CMS cannot adequately determine whether payments are consistent with statutory requirements for economy and efficiency, and with permissible financing, such as the categories of services on which provider taxes may be imposed. Medicaid cost $668 billion in fiscal year 2019. GAO has previously reported on concerns about states' use of various funding sources for the nonfederal share. Although such financing arrangements are allowed under certain conditions, they can also result in increasing the share of net costs paid by the federal government and decreasing reliance on state general funds. GAO was asked to review the sources of funds states used for Medicaid and the types of payments made to providers. This report describes states' reliance on provider and local government funds for these arrangements; the estimated effect of these arrangements on the federal share of net Medicaid payments; and the extent to which CMS collects information on these arrangements. To do this work, GAO reviewed CMS information; administered a questionnaire to all state Medicaid agencies; analyzed the estimated effects of reliance on provider and local government funds; and interviewed CMS officials, as well as Medicaid officials in 11 states selected, in part, on Medicaid spending and geographic diversity. The Administrator of CMS should collect and document complete and consistent information about the sources of funding for the nonfederal share of payments to providers. CMS neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation, but acknowledged the need for additional financing and payment data for Medicaid oversight. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • Fair Labor Standards Act: Observations on the Effects of the Home Care Rule
    In U.S GAO News
    In response to the Department of Labor's Home Care Rule—which extended Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime protections to more home care workers—some states made changes in their Medicaid programs, according to studies and GAO interviews with stakeholders and selected state officials. Many stakeholders said the rule led some states to limit home care workers' hours in their Medicaid programs to avoid overtime costs. For example, in Oregon, newly hired home care workers provided through Medicaid were generally limited to 40 hours per week, according to state documentation. Some states also budgeted additional funds for overtime pay. In addition, according to a few stakeholder groups, some states changed service delivery in their Medicaid programs, for example, by discontinuing services such as live-in care. In contrast, several stakeholders said some states did not make any major changes to their Medicaid programs' home care services. Provider agencies, workers, and consumers experienced changes after the Home Care Rule took effect. Specifically, some provider agencies restricted workers' hours to limit overtime costs, though this can result in the need to hire more workers, leading to increased costs of recruiting, training, and scheduling, according to several stakeholders. GAO's analysis of national survey data found that home care workers, when compared to occupations with similar education and training requirements, were more likely to work full-time but did not earn significantly higher earnings following the Home Care Rule (see figure). Many stakeholders GAO spoke with described ongoing challenges consumers face in obtaining home care services, such as difficulty finding workers to hire. Estimated Median Weekly Earnings of Employed Workers, 2010 through 2019 Note: The margins of error at the 95 percent confidence level are within plus or minus 7.2 percent of the estimate itself. Employment in home care is projected to grow nearly 40 percent over the next decade to meet demand from an increasing population of older adults and people with disabilities. Home care workers help those who need assistance with activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, or bathing. State Medicaid programs may allow home care for eligible individuals as an alternative to institutional care. The Department of Labor's (DOL) Home Care Rule, which went into effect in 2015, extended FLSA protections to more home care workers. GAO was asked to review the implementation and effects of the Home Care Rule. This report examines what is known about (1) changes states made to their Medicaid programs in response to the Home Care Rule; and (2) the Home Care Rule's effect on home care provider agencies, workers, and consumers. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed 2010 through 2019 national survey data on workers' hours and wages; interviewed stakeholders from 15 organizations that represent the different groups affected, DOL officials, and home care program officials from three states selected based on variation in their Medicaid programs and minimum wage levels; and reviewed studies on state strategies to implement the Home Care Rule. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.
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  • GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance Conferences
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO began 42 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of the 42 requested entrance conferences (i.e., initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff) for those audits, DOD scheduled 41 within 14 days of notification and held all 42 entrance conferences within 30 days of notification. Scheduling was delayed for one entrance conference, which was scheduled 21 days after notification, because DOD and GAO were working to reach agreement on the primary action officer, which is the appropriate office or component within the department that coordinates DOD's response to the audit. The entrance conference was held 8 days after it was scheduled. Entrance conferences allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the third of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first two quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020 (April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that were sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received the notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the relevant GAO team for each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
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