Call-center scammer loses $9m appeal in stunning moment of poetic justice

But I only expected to pay $250,000, wails scumbag to wall of blank faces


A call-center scammer has lost his appeal to overturn a $9m fine – after a court pointed out the crook had specifically waived the right to appeal when he pleaded guilty.

Viraj Patel was part of a large India-based criminal enterprise that conned tens of thousands of Americans out of hundreds of millions of dollars: the swindlers would cold-call citizens and pose as US government officials demanding payment for unpaid taxes.

The unlucky victims were threatened with fines, arrests, or deportation if they didn’t cough up: one 85-year-old woman ended up paying the fraudsters $12,300 after she was threatened with a stretch behind bars for phony tax violations. More than 60 suspect con men were charged [PDF] with conspiracy to commit identity theft, false impersonation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud, and money laundering.

In 2018, Patel, then a 33-year-old loser living in California, reached a deal with prosecutors: in exchange for pleading guilty and avoiding a lengthy trial, he would spend up to 165 months, or about 14 years, in the clink followed by three years of supervised release, plus receive a court order kicking him out of America when his punishment is over – and, to top it all off, an $8.97m fine.

He admitted his crimes, specifically, one count of money laundering – since he is based the US, his job in the caper was to launder roughly $4m to $9m of victims' cash – and was sentenced.

But, it turns out that he wasn’t listening very carefully to either his lawyers or the federal district judge who sentenced him in Texas, because Patel was seemingly convinced he was only going to have to pay $250,000. When he realized the real fine was actually $9m, he tried to undo his guilty plea, and appealed to the Fifth Circuit claiming a miscarriage of justice.

“He contends that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary because the district court did not advise him of its authority to order restitution,” the appeals court notes in its judgment [PDF] earlier this week.

And, amazingly, Patel is right – in part at least. At his rearraignment, the Houston court “did not advise Patel of its authority to order restitution,” the appeal judges ruled. Patel had picked up that the district court was only allowed to fine him a maximum of $250,000 – and seemed happy to take the hit.

Pays to pay attention

As a man who clearly placed money above everything else, after learning that he’d only face a $250,000 fine when he had conned people out of millions, the crook stopped paying attention. And so he didn’t notice when both his own lawyers and the court subsequently informed him that the real amount he would be on the hook for – thanks to the court’s ability to force repayment of money stolen from others – was going to be much higher.

“The plea agreement advised Patel of the possibility of restitution and that he would be held responsible for a loss amount between $3.5 million and $9.5 million," the appeals bench noted. "At rearraignment, Patel agreed that the district court correctly stated the terms of the plea agreement, and he signed the agreement in open court… In addition, the PSR and the district court at the sentencing hearing stated the exact amount of the restitution award, and Patel did not object.”

He also wasn’t paying attention when his lawyers and the court informed him that he was waiving the right to appeal the judgment when he signed the guilty plea.

“Patel argues that the appeal waiver was not knowing and voluntary because the district court did not advise him that the waiver covered any potential restitution order,” the appeal court said on Tuesday, before noting: “The record reflects that Patel knew he had the right to appeal and that he was voluntarily waiving that right by entering the plea agreement.”

It goes on: “At rearraignment, the district court advised Patel of the terms of the plea agreement and the appeal waiver provision; he agreed with the court’s summary of the terms of the agreement and signed it in open court.”

But... but... but

Patel tried to argue in his appeal that had he known he was going to be forced to pay $9m, rather than $250,000, he would have pleaded not guilty and therefore, in his eyes, he has suffered a terrible miscarriage of justice.

You’ll be amazed to hear that the appeals court judges didn’t feel quite the same way. “Patel did not ask any questions or express any confusion concerning the appeal waiver. Accordingly, to the extent Patel challenges the restitution award, his challenge is barred by the appeal waiver, and the Government’s motion to dismiss the appeal is granted as to this portion of the appeal,” the judgment concludes.

Wow, that must really suck for Viraj Patel. Just imagine working really hard for years and then having your life’s savings taken away from you just because you didn’t pay enough attention to what someone was saying.

We’re going to file this one under Poetic Justice. ®


Other stories you might like

  • India extends deadline for compliance with infosec logging rules by 90 days
    Helpfully announced extension on deadline day

    India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the local Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) have extended the deadline for compliance with the Cyber Security Directions introduced on April 28, which were due to take effect yesterday.

    The Directions require verbose logging of users' activities on VPNs and clouds, reporting of infosec incidents within six hours of detection - even for trivial things like unusual port scanning - exclusive use of Indian network time protocol servers, and many other burdensome requirements. The Directions were purported to improve the security of local organisations, and to give CERT-In information it could use to assess threats to India. Yet the Directions allowed incident reports to be sent by fax – good ol' fax – to CERT-In, which offered no evidence it operates or would build infrastructure capable of ingesting or analyzing the millions of incident reports it would be sent by compliant organizations.

    The Directions were roundly criticized by tech lobby groups that pointed out requirements such as compelling clouds to store logs of customers' activities was futile, since clouds don't log what goes on inside resources rented by their customers. VPN providers quit India and moved their servers offshore, citing the impossibility of storing user logs when their entire business model rests on not logging user activities. VPN operators going offshore means India's government is therefore less able to influence such outfits.

    Continue reading
  • Hangouts hangs up: Google chat app shuts this year
    How many messaging services does this web giant need? It's gotta be over 9,000

    Google is winding down its messaging app Hangouts before it officially shuts in November, the web giant announced on Monday.

    Users of the mobile app will see a pop-up asking them to move their conversations onto Google Chat, which is yet another one of its online services. It can be accessed via Gmail as well as its own standalone application. Next month, conversations in the web version of Hangouts will be ported over to Chat in Gmail. 

    Continue reading
  • OpenSSL 3.0.5 awaits release to fix potential worse-than-Heartbleed flaw
    Though severity up for debate, and limited chips affected, broken tests hold back previous patch from distribution

    The latest version of OpenSSL v3, a widely used open-source library for secure networking using the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol, contains a memory corruption vulnerability that imperils x64 systems with Intel's Advanced Vector Extensions 512 (AVX512).

    OpenSSL 3.0.4 was released on June 21 to address a command-injection vulnerability (CVE-2022-2068) that was not fully addressed with a previous patch (CVE-2022-1292).

    But this release itself needs further fixing. OpenSSL 3.0.4 "is susceptible to remote memory corruption which can be triggered trivially by an attacker," according to security researcher Guido Vranken. We're imagining two devices establishing a secure connection between themselves using OpenSSL and this flaw being exploited to run arbitrary malicious code on one of them.

    Continue reading
  • Not enough desks and parking spots, wobbly Wi-Fi: Welcome back to the office, Tesla staff
    Don't worry, the tweetings will continue until morale improves

    Employees at Tesla suffered spotty Wi-Fi and struggled to find desks and parking spots when they were returned to work at the office following orders from CEO Elon Musk.

    Most tech companies are either following a hybrid work model or are still operating fully remotely. Musk, however, wants his automaker's staff back at the office working for at least 40 hours a week. Those who fail to return risk losing their jobs, he warned in an internal email earlier this month.

    "Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week. Moreover, the office must be where your actual colleagues are located, not some remote pseudo office. If you don't show up, we will assume you have resigned," he wrote.

    Continue reading
  • LGBTQ+ folks warned of dating app extortion scams
    Uncle Sam tells of crooks exploiting Pride Month

    The FTC is warning members of the LGBTQ+ community about online extortion via dating apps such as Grindr and Feeld.

    According to the American watchdog, a common scam involves a fraudster posing as a potential romantic partner on one of the apps. The cybercriminal sends explicit of a stranger photos while posing as them, and asks for similar ones in return from the mark. If the victim sends photos, the extortionist demands a payment – usually in the form of gift cards – or threatens to share the photos on the chat to the victim's family members, friends, or employer.

    Such sextortion scams have been going on for years in one form or another, even attempting to hit Reg hacks, and has led to suicides.

    Continue reading
  • 5G C-band rollout at US airports slowed over radio altimeter safety fears
    Well, they did say from July, now they really mean from July 2023

    America's aviation watchdog has said the rollout of 5G C-band coverage near US airports won't fully start until next year, delaying some travelers' access to better cellular broadband at crowded terminals.

    Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement this month that its discussions with wireless carriers "have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist."

    5G C-band operates between 3.7-3.98GHz, near the 4.2-4.4GHz band used by radio altimeters that are jolly useful for landing planes in limited visibility. There is or was a fear that these cellular signals, such as from cell towers close to airports, could bleed into the frequencies used by aircraft and cause radio altimeters to display an incorrect reading. C-band technology, which promises faster mobile broadband, was supposed to roll out nationwide on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile US's networks, but some deployments have been paused near airports due to these concerns. 

    Continue reading
  • IBM settles age discrimination case that sought top execs' emails
    Just days after being ordered to provide messages, Big Blue opts out of public trial

    Less than a week after IBM was ordered in an age discrimination lawsuit to produce internal emails in which its former CEO and former SVP of human resources discuss reducing the number of older workers, the IT giant chose to settle the case for an undisclosed sum rather than proceed to trial next month.

    The order, issued on June 9, in Schenfeld v. IBM, describes Exhibit 10, which "contains emails that discuss the effort taken by IBM to increase the number of 'millennial' employees."

    Plaintiff Eugene Schenfeld, who worked as an IBM research scientist when current CEO Arvind Krishna ran IBM's research group, sued IBM for age discrimination in November, 2018. His claim is one of many that followed a March 2018 report by ProPublica and Mother Jones about a concerted effort to de-age IBM and a 2020 finding by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that IBM executives had directed managers to get rid of older workers to make room for younger ones.

    Continue reading
  • FTC urged to probe Apple, Google for enabling ‘intense system of surveillance’
    Ad tracking poses a privacy and security risk in post-Roe America, lawmakers warn

    Democrat lawmakers want the FTC to investigate Apple and Google's online ad trackers, which they say amount to unfair and deceptive business practices and pose a privacy and security risk to people using the tech giants' mobile devices.

    US Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and House Representative Sara Jacobs (D-CA) requested on Friday that the watchdog launch a probe into Apple and Google, hours before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for individual states to ban access to abortions. 

    In the days leading up to the court's action, some of these same lawmakers had also introduced data privacy bills, including a proposal that would make it illegal for data brokers to sell sensitive location and health information of individuals' medical treatment.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022