The FBI is looking for two Chinese citizens accused of running an illegal money transfer business in Southern California.
A federal indictment filed Thursday accuses Dianwei Wang, 31, and Zhili “Ethan” Song, 36, both previously of West Covina, of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmission business and obstruction of justice. The two men are also separately charged with witness tampering.
Wang and Song’s whereabouts are unknown and they are considered fugitives, according to the California Central District District Attorney’s Office.
The men allegedly operated an “informal value transfer system,” a sort of underground banking network they used to transfer money from China to the United States, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, Wang and Song asked their clients to make deposits into Chinese bank accounts that the men controlled or had access to, and agreed to deposit the equivalent amount in US dollars, less the charges. charges, to US bank accounts created by customers. .
From April to December 2017, the men transferred or attempted to transfer around $ 2 million from China to the United States, according to the indictment.
In order to honor their agreements, Wang and Song used money they obtained from third parties, including romance scams, as the source for the dollars they deposited into US accounts, the indictment says. .
The scams involved setting up fake accounts on dating sites or social media platforms to trick victims, often elderly people, into believing they had a relationship with the scammer, who persuaded the victims to send them messages. money, according to the indictment.
“Wang allegedly asked people associated with the online crooks to send him checks or wire him money from victims of dating scams, most of whom were elderly,” prosecutors said. “In some cases, Wang has reportedly ordered people associated with the crooks to ask victims to send checks directly to him. “
The scams grossed nearly $ 1.1 million over six months in 2017, prosecutors said.
Wang and Song are also accused of lying to the FBI in late 2017 when agents asked them about wire transfers to a Chinese citizen who lived in Southern California, prosecutors said.
“The two accused are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice for telling the third Chinese national to falsely tell the FBI that she was buying a house with Wang in order to explain the wire transfers and to support their own false statements to FBI agents, “prosecutors said. .
Authorities seized more than $ 450,000 from the third person’s accounts, prosecutors said.
The FBI previously seized about $ 1.9 million from accounts controlled by Wang, Song and other Chinese nationals, prosecutors said. Of this total, $ 376,000 was lost. The authorities intend to request the confiscation of the remaining money.
According to prosecutors, the conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transfer business carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
The obstruction of justice and witness tampering charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, they said.
Anyone with information on Wang or Song’s whereabouts should call their local FBI office, or the nearest United States Embassy or Consulate.
The FBI Los Angeles office can be reached at (310) 477-6565.