Criminal Justice

Man admits role in law firm scam; says he funneled $2.5M via 38 accounts last year

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A Florida man has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in federal court in Tampa, concerning his role in a scheme that scammed law firms.

Muhammad Naji, 33, admitted in a court document filed last week that he funneled $2.5 million through 38 bank accounts last year, often sending money abroad almost as soon as it was wired to the accounts, reports the Tampa Tribune.

The scheme involved a claimed representation in which a “client” would contact a law firm by email, seeking help in resolving a legal dispute. If the firm accepted the claimed representation, a fake cashier’s check would soon appear. Once the law firm deposited the check and wired funds, less legal fees, to the opponent, both the “client” and the money disappeared. (As a number of law firms have discovered, just because a cashier’s check is initially honored by their bank doesn’t mean it is legitimate.)

For example, an unidentified Columbus, Georgia, law firm fell for the scheme in which Naji was involved, after being contacted by an individual who said he was President Joe Leinenger of Triple J Tool. “Leinenger” said Lee’s Tool and Die in Columbus owed his company nearly $200,000, and then later told the law firm that the other company had agreed to start paying, recounts an FBI affidavit attached to a January criminal complaint in the case.

A $98,750 cashier’s check soon arrived from the claimed president of the opposing company, in a letter mailed from Canada, the Tribune reports. The law firm deposited the check in its trust account and, after deducting $2,500 for its fees, wired $96,250 to a bank account that turned out to belong to a girlfriend of Naji.

After the money was gone, the lawyer involved tried to contact “Leinenger” by phone, but the phone number provided in the emails wasn’t legitimate either.

Naji is scheduled to enter his plea next month. The maximum penalty for conspiracy to commit money laundering is 20 years.

See also: “Law Firms Still Victimized in Fake-Check Web Scams; Trial Looms for Nigerian Accused in $32M Swindle” “Accused ringleader in scam that bilked $70M from law firms has taken plea”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Con man who led $70M scheme to defraud lawyers gets federal prison term”

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