YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Hudson County con man admitted his role in a scheme to steal more than $4.4 million from several Voice Over Internet Protocol service providers by setting up shell companies that he and his cohorts claimed operated from the Empire State Building and other prominent addresses.
Vinod Tonangi, 32, of Guttenberg, admitted that he and crew members held themselves out as the owners and operators of shell companies — with no operations –that purported to be established VOIP wholesalers.
Their victims included AT&T, Cordial Communications, Digerati Networks, France Telecom, Iristel, Keywest Communications, Maxcom Telecomunicaciones, Pipeline Telecom, Primus Communications, Surfcreek Communications, and Verizon – all of whom provided services to the crew on credit.
The thieves then sold the VOIP services to legitimate wholesalers and pocketed the profits, the government said.
When anyone balked, they had to deal with an attorney who didn’t exist. Tonangi even filed legal documents in the name of the “lawyer” — whom he named Frank Soss and created by using a bogus U.S. passport bearing a photo of someone they downloaded online, the government said.
Tonangi and his co-conspirators created shell company e-mail accounts in the names of non-existent employees for communicating with victim providers; websites that contained false information, such as the names of non-existent employees and the companies’ fabricated qualifications to serve as VOIP wholesalers; and aliases to negotiate the purchase of VOIP services, federal prosecutors said.
They also fabricated year-end financial reports that bore the logo of a national accounting firm in order to give the appearance that the shell companies’ financial reports had been reviewed by that firm, authorities added.
Then came the “bust out”: The crew got the companies to use “substantially more” VOIP services than the companies had been approved to buy in such a short period of time — usually during weekends and holidays, so the providers wouldn’t notice, the government said.
When the invoices for the services came due, the thieves sent bogus wire-transfer confirmations via e-mail and even sent small payments to keep the victim providers from cutting off service.
Once the FBI caught wind of it, several crew members were scooped up, including a couple who agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
Tonangi and one his accomplices, Harjeet Bhambhani, 39, of East Stroudsberg, Pa. (who pleaded out on April 26), are both scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 24 by U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan in Trenton.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman credited special agents of the FBI with making the case, handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Kosto of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit in Newark.