U.S. Attorney Announces Extradition Of United Kingdom Citizen For His Role In An International Carbon Credit Fraud Scheme | USAO-SDNY

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Jonathan D. Larsen, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), announced that CHRISTOPHER WRIGHT, a citizen of the United Kingdom, was extradited today from Spain.  WRIGHT is  charged with wire fraud and money laundering relating to his role in a telemarketing scheme involving the fraudulent sale of purported “carbon credits” to victims in the United Kingdom.   WRIGHT was arrested in Spain on January 27, 2021, and is the second defendant charged in the case.  WRIGHT is expected to be presented on Friday, April 23, 2021, before U.S. Magistrate Judge James L. Cott.  WRIGHT’s case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman. 

U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Wright and his codefendants deceived retirees in the United Kingdom with false promises of big returns on restricted stock and environmentally friendly ‘carbon credits.’  Many of the victims lost their life savings, while Wright and his criminal associates allegedly hid the proceeds in the United States and overseas.  Thanks to the IRS and international cooperation, Wright is now in U.S. custody and facing charges in this District.”

IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen said:  “The charges in this case are particularly troubling because this scam allegedly targeted the elderly and retirees, many of whom as a result have lost their hard-earned nest eggs.  This case is a painful reminder that cold-callers promising substantial investments are almost always looking to prey on the elderly. For those with elderly loved ones, take the time to warn them about these scams.”

According to the allegations in the Indictment:[1]

From in or about 2009 up to and including in or about 2015, WRIGHT and other co-conspirators engaged in a scheme to defraud victims in the United Kingdom through the sale of false, fraudulent, and materially misleading investments, and to launder the proceeds of the fraud through bank accounts in the United States and foreign countries.  WRIGHT used the services of telemarketing call centers to identify and cold-call potential victims, who were primarily elderly or retired individuals residing in the United Kingdom.  Over a series of telephone calls, the telemarketers persuaded victims to invest money under various false and misleading pretenses, including the promise of short-term, high-yield, no-risk returns, when in fact the investments were high-risk, illiquid, and in some instances, entirely fictitious.  Many victims were persuaded to make additional investments under the false pretense that they would not be permitted to sell their holdings until they purchased more.  In reliance on the false representations and promises, the victims wired funds to various bank accounts in the United States, including in the Southern District of New York, in the names of corporate entities controlled by one of Wright’s co-conspirators.  WRIGHT assisted in mailing and emailing of documents related to the fraudulent investments, including purchase contracts and investment certificates, to the victims.  Victims who tried to sell their investments found they were unable to do so.  The victims never received a refund on their principal or any return on their investments. 

In order to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the proceeds of the fraudulent scheme, WRIGHT and his co-conspirators set up overseas bank accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, in the names of various shell companies, which were used to launder a substantial portion of the fraud proceeds.

The nature of the particular fraudulent investment vehicles being marketed to the victims changed over time.  From in or about 2009 until in or about 2011, WRIGHT and his co-conspirators sold the stock of Florida-based corporation DirectView Holdings, Inc. (“DirectView”), to the victims based on telemarketers’ false representations and promises that the shares were a no-risk, short-term investment in a debt-free company, and that the shares were likely to increase over 100 percent in value in a short period of time.  In fact, DirectView’s annual report filed with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) for the year ending December 31, 2010, contained dire warnings about the poor fiscal health of DirectView and the risk attendant in purchasing stock, including that the company “may be forced to cease operations” due to losses and cash flow problems, and purchasers “may find it extremely difficult or impossible to resell our shares.”

From in or about 2011 until in or about 2015, WRIGHT and his co-conspirators engaged in the sale of fraudulent “carbon credits.”  “Carbon credits,” which are issued as part of governmental and voluntary regulatory regimes, are permits representing the right to emit a certain number of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  “Carbon offsets,” which are tied to particular carbon-dioxide emissions reducing projects, represent a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and can be purchased by individuals and companies to “offset” their or third parties’ “carbon-footprints.”  The victims were falsely promised that the carbon-related investments they purchased could be easily sold, carried no risk, and would yield a significant, short-term return.  In fact, the carbon credits and offsets that were sold to the victims were fake, and did not represent any actual carbon credits or offsets.

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WRIGHT, 48, a citizen of the United Kingdom, is charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, substantive mail fraud, and substantive wire fraud, with a penalty enhancement for telemarketing, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years; conspiracy to commit money laundering and two counts of money laundering, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years; and one count of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.           

The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of IRS Criminal Investigation in this case.

This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises and Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Units. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Feinstein and Olga I. Zverovich are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 


[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the indictment, and the description of the indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

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