Three Californians indicted in St. Louis conspiracy case targeting elderly victims

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Three people from California have been federally indicted and accused of participating in a conspiracy that used Taiwanese passports, fraudulent bank accounts, and “money mules” to scam elderly victims nationwide, joining four others also accused of a role.

On May 8, Bowen Chen, 21, of Monterey Park; Jiacheng Chen, 19, of East San Gabriel; and Vianne Chen, also known as Tingting T. Chen, 41, were added to an indictment in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. Four other Californians have already been indicted on charges, including conspiracy to commit mail, bank, and wire fraud: Liang Jin, 24, of Walnut; Tsz Yin Kan, 41, of Chino Hills; Kaiyu Wen, 25, of Irvine; and Yu-Chieh Huang, 22, of Chino Hills.

The expansion of the initial case in St. Louis was part of the Money Mule Initiative, an annual campaign to identify, disrupt, and criminally prosecute networks of individuals who transmit funds from fraud victims to international fraudsters. Fraudsters rely on money mules to aid a range of fraud schemes, including those that predominantly impact older Americans, such as lottery fraud, romance scams, and grandparent scams, as well as those that target businesses or government pandemic funds. This year, law enforcement took action to stop over 3,000 money mules. These actions ranged from criminal prosecutions to letters warning those who may have been unknowingly recruited by fraudsters. Agencies are also educating the public about how fraudsters use money mules and how to avoid unknowingly assisting fraud by receiving and transferring money.

The St. Louis indictment accuses Kan of setting up USA You Yi Sheng Inc. as an education service business in California. Kan then produced fraudulent immigration paperwork known as the Form I-20, or “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” the indictment says. Vianne Chen, a bank employee, Kan, and others opened student checking accounts using the fake I-20 forms and Taiwanese passports that had been shipped to Kan, the indictment says.

Other scammers targeted older Americans with tech support fraud, romance fraud, and imposter schemes and tricked their victims into collecting and delivering large amounts of cash to money mules like Huang, the indictment says. Couriers converted the cash they collected from fraud victims and others engaged in criminal activity into cashier’s checks that they deposited into a bank account that has received more than $7 million, the indictment says.

Bowen Chen was the largest depositor into that account, accounting for $1.3 million, the indictment says. Jiacheng Chen deposited approximately $615,000, and Kan deposited $440,000, it says.

Huang was the first to be charged in the case. In August, an elderly Missouri man was told via a pop-up ad that his computer was infected with a virus. He and his wife were then falsely told that someone had been accessing child pornography through the computer and they would have to pay $88,000 to avoid prosecution, according to charging documents. The Missouri couple gathered the money but got suspicious and contacted police, who arrested Huang.

Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tracy Berry and Kyle Bateman are prosecuting the case.

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