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Fugitives accused of running illegal LA-area operation to move money from China to US

Gregory Yee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — The FBI is searching for two Chinese citizens accused of running an illegal money transfer business in Southern California.

A federal indictment filed Thursday charges Dianwei Wang, 31, and Zhili "Ethan" Song, 36, both formerly of West Covina, with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and obstruction of justice. Both men are also separately charged with witness tampering.

Wang's and Song's whereabouts are not known and they are considered fugitives, according to the U.S. attorney's office for the Central District of California.

The men allegedly ran an "informal value transfer system," a kind of underground banking network that they used to move money from China to the U.S., prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, Wang and Song told their customers to make deposits into Chinese bank accounts the men controlled or had access to, and agreed to deposit the equivalent amount of U.S. dollars, minus a fee, in American bank accounts set up by the customers.

From April to December 2017, the men transferred or attempted to transfer about $2 million from China to the U.S., according to the indictment.

 

In order to fulfill their agreements, Wang and Song used money they got from third parties, including romance scams, as a source for the dollars they deposited into U.S. accounts, according to the indictment.

The scams involved creating fake accounts on dating sites or social media platforms to trick victims, often older adults, into believing they had a relationship with the scammer, who persuaded victims to send them money, according to the indictment.

"Wang allegedly directed people associated with the online scammers to send him checks or wire him funds derived from romance scam victims, most of whom were older adults," prosecutors said. "In some cases, Wang allegedly directed the people associated with scammers to have victims send checks directly to him."

The scams netted nearly $1.1 million over six months in 2017, prosecutors said.

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