NEW YORK: A Russian con artist posing as presidential pal Charles J. Wyly Jr. ordered a new checkbook from the Texas billionaire’s bank account and wrote a $7 million (€5.22 million) check for a pile of gold, U.S. authorities said Thursday.
Igor Klopov orchestrated the identify theft scheme from his home in Moscow, where he used his computer to mine Web sites for financial data about Wyly and other wealthy Americans, Manhattan prosecutors said. Klopov and four accomplices were charged with stealing $1.5 million (€1.12 million) and attempting to rip off another $10.7 million (€8 million) in a case prosecutors said demonstrates the risks of easy access to personal information on the Internet.
Klopov, snared in a sting operation in May, and the four other defendants, arrested Thursday in Michigan, Florida, Texas and Kentucky, were charged with grand larceny, money laundering and other crimes. If convicted, they each could face up to 25 years in prison.
Defense attorney Bukh Arkady said Klopov, 24, is “willing to cooperate with the government,” adding, “His family in Russia is very concerned.”
An attorney for Wyly did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
Wyly, 73, and his brother, Sam, headed the world’s largest arts and crafts chain, Michaels Stores Inc., before the Irving, Texas-based company was sold last year for $6 billion. The brothers also are known as stalwart Republican Party benefactors and close patrons of President George W. Bush.
An indictment alleges that Klopov picked his victims from the Forbes 400 list, then tapped into online databases to collect information “about the value of property, size of outstanding mortgages and existing lines of credit,” prosecutor James Kindler said at a news conference.
Klopov then hired his co-conspirators to help forge documents and raid bank accounts, an operation financed with stolen credit cards, prosecutors said.
In December 2005, prosecutors said, Klopov was able to order the sale of $1 million (€750,000) of stock held by a couple in California, then persuade the brokerage to wire the proceeds to his bank account by having an accomplice hand-deliver a forged authorization letter. In other cases, they said, the co-conspirators were turned away from banks after seeking to withdraw hundreds of thousands of dollars from victims’ accounts using fake identifications and doctored documents.
The scheme began to unravel last November, when a Westchester County gold dealer contacted Wyly’s bank about the $7 million (€5.22 million) check. Wyly denied writing it.
Undercover investigators posing as accomplices contacted Klopov and convinced him the transaction had gone through. Authorities “even arranged to have a picture of (an undercover) taken with the gold bars, which was e-mailed to Klopov as proof of purchase,” Kindler said.
In May, Klopov agreed to come to the United States to retrieve the gold, prosecutors said.
The undercover officers met him in the Dominican Republic and flew with him by private jet to New York, where he was arrested.