By Staff writers, TechWeb 27 April 2007 10:20 AEST Government/Law
The two-year scam included employees filling empty boxes with bricks, hooking up wires to empty server cases -- and a company president committing suicide..
The former vice president of a high-tech company was sentenced today to five years in prison for conspiring to commit US$100 million worth of bank fraud.
Jonathan James Mast, 38, pleaded guilty last November to the conspiracy charge, along with mail fraud and money laundering. He had been the vice president of sales at CyberNET, a Michigan-based computer company, between 2002 and 2004. A major solution provider, CyberNET made No. 110 on the 2004 VARBusiness 500 list.
Mast also was ordered to pay US$15 million in restitution.
Assistant US Attorney Tim VerHey said six people have been charged in connection with the bank fraud scheme. Four of them have pleaded guilty. A trial is set for the other two this coming September. The company collapsed after investigators executed search warrants, according to a release from the US Attorney's Office in Grand Rapids, Mich.
VerHey, who handled the case, said Barton Watson, CyberNET's president, killed himself in November of 2004, one day after authorities executed a search warrant on his home and business. He would have been the seventh person charged.
"This is probably the largest bank fraud case we've had in a while," said VerHey, in an interview with InformationWeek. "It was US$100 million worth of fraud involving about 100 banks or finance companies."
The prosecutor said US$14 million was recovered during the investigation, and now the victim banks are dealing with how to divvy it up.
According to a criminal indictment, principal players gave potential lenders overstated financial information about the company to obtain loans. The government contends that while the company was actually losing between US$500,000 and Us$7.6 million each month, they offered up reports showing that the company had a net income of millions of dollars.
The company principals also allegedly made up a business that served as a shell company that did no business. They then created false records that appeared to show that the shell company had been hired to pay its taxes. The indictment also contends that CyberNET principals also made up fake customers, even opening up commercial mail box accounts for them in case potential lenders contacted them.
In case the lenders wanted to contact the fictitious customers by phone, CyberNET employees allegedly set up a voice message service and acquired a series of different telephone numbers with different area codes. CyberNet employees then returned any calls that came in.
According to the indictment, CyberNET often told lenders they needed the loan to buy additional computer equipment. If the lenders sent an inspector in to check out the newly purchased equipment, CyberNET employees allegedly hooked up empty server boxes to wires so it looked as if they were functioning. Inspectors were led to believe that the company had a huge data center, filled with valuable servers.
Investigators also reported that CyberNET employees filled computer boxes with bricks to make it appear that new equipment had just arrived.