NEW YORK - Two Latvian citizens - Martins Apskalns and Igors Pirins, have been convicted of large-scale fraud in the United States, the U.S. Justice Department informs.
The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York said that Apskalns and Pirins were sentenced to 108 months and 66 months in prison, respectively, for their leadership roles in a broad scheme that defrauded victims of millions of dollars. Apskalns and Pirins previously pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud
“Martins Apskalns and Igors Pirins were ringleaders in an international conspiracy that victimized people who thought they were buying classic cars on legitimate internet auction and trading sites. They admitted to bilking millions of dollars from their victims, and now they are both headed to prison for their crimes,'' U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said.
From at least January 2016 through December 2018, the defendants participated in a fraudulent scheme that most commonly operated as follows: First, co-conspirators impersonated automotive dealers and collectors and claimed to be selling classic cars on various well-known internet auction and trading websites. Victims responding to the ads were in fact corresponding with a fraud scheme participant. After the victims and co-conspirators came to terms on a sale price, including down payment and shipping costs, victims were next directed to purported automotive transportation companies and were told that these companies would accept payment and transport the cars. These companies were in fact shell corporations established by the conspiracy to help perpetrate the fraud, whose corporate bank accounts were established and controlled by the defendants and co-conspirators, awaiting wired funds from the fraud’s victims. After victims had wired payment, the defendants and co-conspirators went to the banks to drain the victim’s funds, often starting the same day payment had been transmitted, withdrawing from different bank branches in numerous withdrawals on the same day, and withdrawing in denominations that were varied and often kept to an amount that they believed would prevent the financial institutions from recording and reporting the fraud. The defendants and other co-conspirators then sent the fraud proceeds outside the United States to Eastern European countries, from where the defendants and many of their co-conspirators originated. Some of the defendants maintained managerial roles, recruiting co-conspirators to participate and providing directions and victim information to scheme participants once the co-conspirators were inside the United States. Victims never received the goods they believed they had purchased, and many were unable to recover their money or were left paying loans for cars that were never truly for sale.
Apskalns and Pirins served as managers in this scheme, who, in addition to opening bank accounts of their own that received victim funds, directed and coordinated the activities of cells of co-conspirators in the United States. Apskalns and Pirins continued their criminal activity and management role when they left the United States and returned to Latvia.
Apskalns and Pirins were arrested in Latvia in November 2018. At the time of their arrest, evidence recovered from Apskalns revealed that he was continuing to direct co-conspirators until the time of his arrest. This information led to the arrest of four co-conspirators in the United States as they attempted to flee the United States from John F. Kennedy airport. Apskalns and Pirins were extradited to the United States in December 2018.
In addition to their prison terms, Apskalns was also sentenced to three years of supervised release, ordered to pay USD 4,952,172.37 in restitution. Pirins was also sentenced to three years of supervised release, ordered to pay USD 3,095,000.94 in restitution.
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs and Border Protection, and the New York City Police Department.
The investigation was conducted in close cooperation with the International Cooperation Department and the Criminal Investigation Department of the Central Criminal Police Department, State Police of Latvia; Prosecutor’s General Office of Latvia, International Cooperation Division; Police Department of Lithuania, Vilnius County Police Headquarters, Crimes Against Property Board; Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau, International Liaison Board; Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania; Vilnius Regional Prosecution Office; and the National Bureau of Investigation of Finland. The Department of Justice’s Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided significant assistance.