Two Chinese nationals from West Covina have been charged with operating an illegal money transfer business that moved funds from China to the United States, in some cases using proceeds of romance scams to provide money to their U.S.-based customers, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
An updated indictment filed Wednesday charges Dianwei Wang, 31, and Zhili “Ethan” Song, 36 — both of whom are fugitives — with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and witness tampering offenses, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Wang and Song allegedly told their customers to deposit money into Chinese bank accounts they controlled or had access to with a promise that the money — minus their fee — would be deposited into accounts their customers designated in the United States, prosecutors said.
Over the course of about eight months in 2017, Wang and Song transferred or attempted to transfer about $2 million from China to the United States for their customers, the indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court alleges.
Over a six-month period in 2017, Wang and Song allegedly caused romance scam victims to send nearly $1.1 million to them or to their money transfer customers, according to the indictment.
Wang and Song also allegedly lied to the FBI in late 2017 when they were asked about wire transfers to a Chinese national residing in Southern California. Both defendants are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice for telling the third Chinese national to falsely tell the FBI that she was buying a house with Wang as a way of explaining the wire transfers and supporting their own false statements to FBI agents, according to federal prosecutors.
The charge of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business carries a sentence of up to five years in federal prison. The obstruction of justice and witness tampering charges each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, prosecutors noted.
The FBI previously seized about $1.9 million from accounts controlled by Wang, Song and other Chinese nationals. No claims were made on nearly $376,000 seized from Wang’s accounts and that money has been forfeited to the United States. The United States intends to seek forfeiture of the remaining funds, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.