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May 16, 2012

Two Men Sentenced for Elaborate VoIP Scam

By Julie Griffin, Contributing Writer

Today in a New Jersey courthouse, two men pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman made the announcement regarding two men who pulled off an elaborate operation that sold fraudulently obtained VoIP to legitimate businesses. The façade was so convincing, the conspirators hustled $4.4 million from established companies such as AT&T (News - Alert). It took special FBI investigators to shut down the operation.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Vinod Tonangi, 33, of Guttenberg, N.J. was sentenced to 366 days in prison. Harjeet Bhambhani, 40, of Pennsylvania received 37 months. In addition to their terms in prison, the men are ordered to serve an additional three years of supervised probation. Tonangi was ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution.

Both men - and their currently anonymous co-conspirators - were masked as VoIP wholesalers operating shell telecom companies under the names Paradise Communications, Reach Communications and Airtel (News - Alert) Holdings. The conspirators went to great lengths to create an entire imaginary empire. Their fictitious offices were located at prestigious venues like the Empire State Building, and their Internet-based call services would direct clients to different departments.

If victims grew suspicious or threatened to sue, Tonangi and Bhambhani would introduce them to their fake lawyer, Frank Soss. Frank Soss would file appeals, draft pleadings and handled all of the legal issues. Their bogus lawyer even had a U.S. Passport, with a picture of an unknowing man that was taken off the Internet.

Although it probably took a lot of effort in pulling off this façade, maintaining appearances is how they effectively carried out their operation, for they relied on credit. Tonangi and Bhamhani tricked reputable companies into selling them VoIP services on credit then they would resell those services to VoIP wholesalers and split the profits. AT&T, Cordial Communications, Digerati Networks, France Telecom, Iristel, Keywest Communications, Maxcom Telecomunicaciones, Pipeline Telecom (News - Alert), Primus Communications, Surfcreek Communications, and Verizon are all companies that were victims of the bamboozlement.




Edited by Brooke Neuman
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