Three L.A. County residents were found guilty of laundering over $2.5 million in Target gift cards.
The trio was identified as:
– Blade Bai, 35, of El Monte
– Bowen Hu, 28, of Hacienda Heights
– Tairan Shi, 29, of Diamond Bar
After a 10-day trial, all three were found guilty Tuesday of scamming victims into buying gift cards under the false pretense of resolving various financial problems, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Between June 2019 and Nov. 2020, prosecutors estimate over $2.5 million worth of gift cards were laundered.
The scheme involved overseas scammers calling victims and persuading them to buy one or more Target gift cards to rectify nonexistent issues.
Some victims received calls from the suspects posing as law enforcement officers or government employees claiming the victims’ identities had been stolen or warrants were issued for their arrest. Others were sent fake tech support emails claiming issues with the victims’ financial accounts. In order to resolve these problems, they were asked to send payment in the form of Target gift cards, authorities said.
Victims were told to purchase gift cards, often more than one and typically in increments of $500. They were told to read the card numbers and access codes over the phone to the fraudsters.
Using this method, a China-based scam group known as the “Magic Lamp” sold over 5,000 fraudulent gift cards to the trio through the messaging app, WeChat, court documents said.
The trio used WeChat to coordinate the distribution of gift cards to “runners” who spent the funds at Target stores in Los Angeles and Orange counties. They purchased a variety of items including electronics, other gift cards and more.
All three were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Bai was arrested in Nov. 2020 on a criminal complaint involving this case and was released on bond. Within days of his release, authorities said he engaged in yet another money laundering scheme involving Target gift cards. He was arrested in Feb. 2022 and has remained in federal custody since.
One of the runners, Yan Fu, 60, of Chino Hills, pleaded guilty in Sept. 2022 to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He is serving a 20-month sentence in federal prison and was ordered to pay $48,073 in restitution.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 26, 2024, where the three scammers could face up to 20 years in prison.