The store's owner, Corona resident Anwar Haque, was convicted last week of turning the variety shop at 75-15 37th Ave. into a front for a credit card scam and money laundering operation that bilked several major companies out of $6.8 million, Brown said.
"The defendant and his ring of thieves mistakenly thought that they could evade detection, but investigators uncovered a paper trail that led to their discovery, prosecution and prison," Brown said.
Over a period of three years from 1999 to 2002, Haque, a 50-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant, and 14 others from the area used their businesses to ring up fictitious credit card purchases on accounts which were never paid, Brown said.
The fake purchases - sometimes totaling as much as $5,000 - were made using credit cards the crew bought from foreigner nationals who were on their way out of the country or obtained by using false identities, Brown and law enforcement sources said.
After receiving payouts from their banks, the merchants managed to launder more than $1.2 million, cutting checks to other businesses and people for items such as cigarettes, phone cards and frozen fish, Brown said.
The crew sent more than two-thirds of the money abroad - presumably to family members in Bangladesh and Pakistan - law enforcement sources said.
The credit card companies, which included Bank One, Chase, American Express, Citibank, MBNA, Bank of America, Fleet and Wells Fargo, got suspicious after noticing a "pattern of large monetary transactions among a group of Queens merchants," according to a press release from Brown.
Some of the cardholders who turned over their credit to merchants had as many as 50 individual accounts, Brown said. The merchants would max out the credit cards, splitting the proceeds with the cardholders who were still around, Brown said.
Haque, who was found guilty May 19 after a jury of three women and nine men deliberated for 2 1/2 days, now faces up to 25 years in prison, Brown said. Sentencing was slated for June 25 before Queens Supreme Court Justice Roberta Dunlop.
Haque had been indicted along with four others, who eventually sought plea bargains during the course of the trial, a spokeswoman for Brown said.
Barqet Ali and Kaium Shah pleaded guilty earlier and were expected to receive a sentence of 1 1/3 years to four years in jail, the spokeswoman said. Abed Jim Shrayef pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree money laundering and was sentenced to three months in jail and five years of probation, she said. Sardar Uddin pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny and was sentenced to time served and received five years of probation.
Another 10 people have also been convicted in the credit card fraud case, Brown said.
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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