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Conman confesses to US$4.4 million VoIP services swindle

A New Jersey man pleads guilty in federal court yesterday to his role in an elaborate scheme to steal more than US$4.4 million from VoIP providers, including AT&T and Verizon, officials said.

Vinod Tonangi, 32, of Guttenberg, Hudson County admitted that he and his cohorts set up shell companies - with no operations – and purported to be established VOIP wholesalers. They claimed to operate from the Empire State Building and other prominent addresses.

The victims of the wire fraud scheme included Cordial Communications, Digerati Networks, France Telecom, Iristel, Keywest Communications, Maxcom Telecomunicaciones, Pipeline Telecom, Primus Communications, Surfcreek Communications, and Verizon – all of whom provided services on credit.

The thieves then quickly sold the VOIP services to legitimate wholesalers at a higher volume than authorized and pocketed the profits, the government said. They did this on weekends and holidays so the original providers wouldn’t notice, according to reports.

When payments for the actual VoIP services came due, they sent bogus wire transfer confirmations by e-mail or made small payments to keep their providers from cutting them off.

If a victim company files a lawsuit or threatened to sue, Tonangi and his men responded in legal pleadings or letters they prepared in the name of a non-existent attorney, according to court transcriptions. They even created a fake US passport for the non-existent lawyer using pictures from the internet.

Tonangi’s gang created several e-mail accounts in the names of non-existent employees for corresponding with victim providers; websites that contained fabricated information, such as the names of non-existent employees and the companies’ falsified qualifications to serve as VOIP wholesalers; and aliases to bargain the purchase of VOIP services, federal lawyers said.

Calls to the non-existent employees were routed to the gang's mobile phones. The companies were given fake addresses at prominent locations, including the Empire State Building in New York City.

Once the FBI discovered the operation, several of Tonangi’s crew was arrested, including a couple who agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

Tonangi and together with one of his accomplices, Harjeet Bhambhani, 39, of East Stroudsberg, Pa pleaded guilty before US District Judge Peter G. Sheridan in Trenton. They will be sentenced by Sheridan on August 24.

US Attorney Paul Fishman thanks special agents of the FBI with breaking the case, handled by Assistant US Attorney Seth Kosto of the US Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit in Newark, New Jersey.