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Hudson swindler gets federal prison for swiping $4.4 million for VOIP services

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Hudson con man was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for scheming to swindle more than $4.4 million from several VOIP service providers.

Vinod Tonangi, 32, of Guttenberg, admitted that he and crew members held themselves out as the owners and operators of a group of shell companies purportedly located at the Empire State Building and other prominent addresses.

One of his accomplices, Harjeet Bhambhani of East Stroudsberg, Pa. was sentenced to 37 months by U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan in Trenton.

The judge, as part of today’s sentencings, ordered Tonangi to pay $1.74 million in restitution and Bhambhani a tentative $4.4 million, at least, subject to a final order.

Their victims included AT&T, Verizon, Cordial Communications, Digerati Networks, France Telecom, Iristel, Keywest Communications, Maxcom Telecomunicaciones, Pipeline Telecom, Primus Communications, and Surfcreek Communications – all of whom provided services to the crew on credit.

The thieves then sold the Voice Over Internet Protocol services to legitimate wholesalers and pocketed the profits, both men admitted last year.

When anyone balked, they had to deal with an attorney who didn’t exist. Tonangi even filed legal documents in the name of the “lawyer” — whom he named Frank Soss and created by using a bogus U.S. passport bearing a photo of someone they downloaded online.

Tonangi and his co-conspirators created shell company e-mail accounts in the names of non-existent employees for communicating with victim providers; websites that contained false information, such as the names of non-existent employees and the companies’ fabricated qualifications to serve as VOIP wholesalers; and aliases to negotiate the purchase of VOIP services, federal prosecutors said.

They also fabricated year-end financial reports that bore the logo of a national accounting firm in order to give the appearance that the shell companies’ financial reports had been reviewed by that firm, authorities added.

Then came the “bust out”: The crew got the companies to use substantially more VOIP services than the companies had been approved to buy in such a short period of time — usually during weekends and holidays, so the providers wouldn’t notice.

When the invoices for the services came due, the thieves sent bogus wire-transfer confirmations via e-mail and even sent small payments to keep the victim providers from cutting off service.

Once the FBI caught wind of it, several crew members were scooped up, including a couple who agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman credited special agents of the FBI with making the case, handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Kosto of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit in Newark.

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