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A group of eight borough merchants with stores in Jackson Heights and Sunnyside has been charged with defrauding credit card companies out of $5 million in an elaborate scheme to run up bogus charges and pocket the profits, the Queens district attorney said.
The merchants allegedly colluded with scores of credit card holders who hit their credit limits and then split the money with the store owners but never paid off the bills.
The defendants are accused of devising and carrying out a scheme to plunder millions of dollars from Americas credit card-based economy, but investigators quickly uncovered a paper trial which led to their discovery, DA Richard Brown said in a release. Now they face the prospect of long prison sentences.
The eight defendants, all of whom are residents of Sunnyside, Woodside, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, have been charged with a host of crimes including grand larceny, falsifying business records and scheme to defraud, the district attorney said. Some would face sentences of up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
They were arrested after 75 detectives and investigators from the New York Police Department, Queens District Attorneys Office, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service raided 13 businesses June 11.
The investigation began in November when a number of major credit card companies reviewed card accounts that had been closed for non-payment and noticed a pattern of large monetary transactions among a group of merchants in Queens.
Nearly all of the stores, which range from delis to electronics outlets, sit within walking distance of one another in the area of 37th Avenue and 71st Street in Jackson Heights. One store, Jamuna Fish Market, is at 44-10 43rd Ave. in Sunnyside.
The scheme would start with consumers opening up as many as 50 credit card accounts and establishing good credit by making small purchases and paying the bills on time, the DA said.
But the card holder would then let the merchants max out the cards by charging fake sales, with 65 percent to 75 percent of the money collected from the credit card company going to the cardholder and the rest pocketed by the merchants, according to the district attorney.
The card holders would then allegedly use phony checks to make a minimum payment and start the process over again, the DA said. The accounts would eventually be closed for failure to make payment and placed in collection.
A paper trail of credit card transactions led investigators back to the merchants and card holders, most of whom are immigrants from Bangladesh, the DA said.
The merchants charged in the case are Salam Bhuiyan, 30, of East Elmhurst, a cell phone store owner; Naim Chowdhury, 35, of Sunnyside, a fish market owner; Anwar Haque, 48, of Jackson Heights, an appliance store owner; Samsul Haque, 72, of Jackson Heights, an electronics store owner; Abulfazal Islam, 32, of Elmhurst, a deli owner; Kaium Shah, 40, of Elmhurst, a travel agency owner; Mohammad Uddin, 31, of Woodside, a video store owner; and Sardar Uddin, 36, of Elmhurst, a deli owner.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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