Defendant agrees to restitution of a least $1.4 million
Date: January 29, 2020
SAN FRANCISCO – Athanasios Vouloukos pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, announced Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Kareem Carter. The guilty plea was received by the Honorable Susan Illston, U.S. District Judge.
According to his plea agreement, Vouloukos of Ville St. Laurent, Quebec, Canada, admitted that he conspired with others in a telemarketing scheme to defraud small businesses in the United States. Vouloukos and others deceived thousands of small businesses into paying for a phony service to improve and enhance their online profile and presence. The phony service was variously described as, for example, "business listing optimization," "business profile optimization," or "online business listing optimization," when in fact no such services were ever performed. Business were charged approximately $500 for the phony service.
As stated in the plea agreement, Vouloukos operated a calling center in Canada with his co-conspirator Nicholaos Menis. U.S. victims were cold-called from Canada and sent bogus invoices. According to the plea agreement, the telemarketing scheme involved calling businesses regarding the fraudulent invoices and falsely stating that the businesses had ordered "business listing optimization" or similar services and owed the amount on the invoice. Victims were directed to mail checks to addresses in the United States, which were actually United Parcel Service (UPS) mailboxes or virtual offices, including one mailbox at a UPS store in San Francisco. In pleading guilty, Vouloukos admitted that he and a co-conspirator used a firm called GreenGate to launder the proceeds of the fraudulent scheme.
According to the indictment, from about May 2009 to about June 2014, Vouloukos and others collected approximately $3.2 million from thousands of victims.
Menis of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada, was charged in a separate indictment and arrested on August 11, 2014. He pleaded guilty on December 5, 2014, and is awaiting sentencing.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment against Vouloukos on February 12, 2015. He was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349; four counts of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). Vouloukos pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Vouloukos was arrested after entering the United States on January 25, 2019, and made his initial appearance before the Honorable Sallie Kim, U.S. Magistrate Judge. He was released on a $100,000 bond.
Judge Illston scheduled Vouloukos' sentencing for October 30, 2020. The maximum statutory penalty for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 is 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution. However, any sentence will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the IRS – Criminal Investigation. United States Postal Inspection Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert S. Leach and Scott D. Joiner are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Rebecca Shelton and Kimberly Richardson.