A Belgian national was arraigned in Boston last week on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in a ring that federal authorities say convinced law firms and charities across the country to accept forged checks and then remit parts of the funds they allegedly represented to bank accounts in the Boston area.
Aref Zokita Said, 36, was nabbed in Morocco in April, based on an indictment issued by a Boston grand jury in February. The indictment, unsealed only on Said's arrival in Boston last week, charges that between 2013 and 2016, he and other ring members targeted "hundreds of law firms and non-profits, including charities devoted to the assistance of people with disabilities or mental illness; survivors of violence and sexual assault; education of the underprivileged; and to the protection of animals and the environment."
The US Attorney's office in Boston reports:
According to the indictment, beginning no later than August 2013, Said and his co-conspirators defrauded law firms and non-profits, including charities, by sending them fraudulent cashier’s checks and convincing them to wire money to members of the scheme, with the false assurance that the fake checks would cover the expense. Once the checks were discovered to be fraudulent, the victims’ bank accounts were debited, and the victims were left with thousands of dollars in losses, having unwittingly forwarded their own money to a member of the conspiracy.
The indictment discusses another ring leader, a Spaniard, but he may have turned on Said - or is still at large - because he is identified only as Co-Conspirator 1. Both of the men, officials say, often posed as British architects.
According to the indictment, both men frequently stayed in the Boston area - and set up bank accounts at local branches of Bank of America, Eastern Bank, East Boston Savings Bank, Citizens Bank and TD Bank to accept the remittances from the entities they were allegedly defrauding. The indictment lists several examples, including the way a charity on Mercer Island, Washington that helps educate disadvantaged children was defrauded:
[O]n or about December 29, 2015, as part of the scheme, a member of the conspiracy sent an e-mail to the Charity. The e-mail purported to come from someone calling himself a British architect. In subsequent exchanges with the Charity, the purported architect expressed a desire to donate $30,000 to the Charity in honor of his mother.
On or about January 14, 2016, the Charity received in the mail what appeared to be a cashier's check for $39,850 made out to the Charity, ostensibly from the British architect. Unbeknownst to the Charity, the check was fraudulent.
On or about January 14, 2016, a member of the conspiracy sent the Charity an e-mail purporting to come from the architect claiming that the cashier's check had been issued in an erroneously high amount. According to the architect, the excess money was needed to fulfill a pledge the architect had made to a family whose daughter was scheduled for surgery the coming weekend.
On or about January 15,2016, a conspiracy member sent the Charity another e-mail, this one claiming that the family's daughter "ha[d] a life threatening situation and ha[d] been hoping on funding for the past three months." In the email, the conspiracy member, again posing as the British architect, directed the Charity to wire the excess money to a TD Bank account in the name of Daniel Hendrickx controlled by CC-1. The Charity wired the money as directed.
On or about January 19, 2016, CC-1 withdrew $9,930 from the TD Bank account, including through withdrawals made at automatic teller machines in Weymouth and Quincy, Massachusetts.
Said faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.