Monday, Alex Sualim, 44, of Toronto, Canada, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton to 12.5 years (150 months) in prison and ordered to pay over $13 million in restitution. Sualim previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
“We want to thank our law enforcement partners for their diligence during this multi-year investigation, which resulted in the successful identification, arrest, and prosecution of a foreign national who was using advanced technological tools to prey on American victims,” stated U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo. “We remain committed to aggressively prosecuting those who would engage in fraud and cyber-crime.”
“The defendant operated a sophisticated, international fraud scheme that spanned four continents and swindled millions of dollars from more than a dozen victims. The lengthy prison sentence reflects the severity of his egregious crimes. IRS-CI will continue to work with its international law enforcement partners to investigate transnational organized crime,” stated IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge Ismael Nevarez Jr.
“The defendant wrongly believed being outside the United States gave him the freedom to carry out his criminal activities. The FBI remains committed to pursue these criminals wherever they may hide. This case is a fine example of the partnership the FBI has with our international law enforcement partners through our legal attaches, as well as with domestic law enforcement agencies-all working together to bring justice on behalf of our citizens.” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas Price.
Between 2009 and 2013, Sualim helped operate a fraud scheme that spanned four continents and duped more than a dozen victims out of more than $13 million. The scheme’s details were unusually sophisticated. First, Sualim would create a website for a Canadian company that purported to manufacture semiconductor chips. Next, Sualim would create passports, email accounts, and toll-free phone numbers for the Canadian company’s supposed employees. And next, Sualim would send millions of solicitation emails—on behalf of the supposed Canadian employees—to Americans whose email addresses he’d purchased from a spam vendor. These emails would explain that the Canadian company needed a product called “silicon germanium” to manufacture its semiconductor chips, that the company wished to enlist an American distributor to obtain the product from China, and that the Canadian company would cover the entire upfront cost of the product. If a victim expressed interest in this seemingly risk-free arrangement, he would be sent a series of additional emails accompanied by professional-looking purchase orders, proposed contracts, and other documents designed to give the transaction a veneer of legitimacy. Finally, on the eve of the first shipment from China, the victim would be told that the Canadian company’s financing had unexpectedly fallen through and that the American distributor needed to supply some of the upfront cost, after all.
If a victim agreed to this new arrangement, he’d be told how to wire his portion to an overseas bank account (typically located in Cyprus, Greece, Hong Kong, or China). Next, Sualim would arrange for a supposed employee of the Chinese manufacturer (who, in reality, was one of Sualim’s co-conspirators) to call or email the victim and explain that his company had just been purchased by a new parent company that required a larger minimum order. These victims were told they needed to wire more money to the overseas bank account in order to complete the first order. Many victims fell for this ruse and sent more money (sometimes several times). Finally, in the last iteration of the scheme, Sualim would arrange for large packages to be shipped to victims, who were told the packages contained the silicon germanium but were cautioned not to open the packages because silicon germanium is a highly-unstable material that can only be handled in a sterile laboratory environment. In fact, the packages were filled with worthless filler material. Nevertheless, some victims fell for the ruse, believed they were receiving the contracted-for product, and kept wiring more money to the designated overseas bank account in the hope of obtaining more shipments. Once victims discovered they were being scammed and demanded answers, their supposed Chinese and Canadian counterparts would simply stop responding to emails and phone calls.
During the operation of the scheme, Sualim—a college-educated electrical engineer who hails from Nigeria—lived in a multi-million dollar waterfront home in Toronto and had a fleet of luxury vehicles, including a Porsche, a Mercedes, and a Tesla that cost more than $100,000. Under his plea agreement, Sualim agreed to liquidate, for the benefit of victims, more than $2 million of Canadian assets.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The prosecution was handled by Dominic Lanza and Peter Sexton, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona, Phoenix.