Three Michigan men accused of wiring $88 million to multiple overseas accounts claim they did nothing wrong, arguing they were just sending the money to relatives.
Federal prosecutors, however, claim the trio created phony businesses with the express purpose of moving large amounts of cash out of the country.
Omar Alhalmi, 38, was charged last month with funneling $22.3 million to Yemen and other countries, while Fahd Samaha, 45, and Maged Alsabahi, 29, are accused of running an illegal cash delivery operation from 2013 through 2015, the Detroit Free Press.
According to indictments filed Jan. 22, the three men engaged in secret banking practices by creating multiple fake businesses by using the addresses of vacant buildings, storefronts of residences and used “straw business owners” or “fronts” to help send millions to various countries, including Yemen and China.
Prosecutors claim Alhalmi never disclosed where the money came from and where it was going and created at least 13 phony business bank accounts from 2011 to 2016 to access the banking industry’s wiring service, the Free Press reported.
However, Alhalmi’s attorney claims the government knew exactly what he was doing and there was nothing illicit about where the money came from or where it was going.
Nabih Ayad told the Free Press that Alhalmi and the other two men collected from people in the Yemeni community who wanted to send cash to loved ones back home. He said users were charged a fee to have their money wired back to Yemen.
“Not everyone has a bank in the old country,” he told the newspaper. “You’re talking about a large Yemeni community (in metro Detroit). That how they get money back home.”
He added: “They are just creating an opportunity for their loved ones to receive money…In the olden days, they used to just pass it off by hand. Here, they are doing it through a wiring service.”
Ayad said he believes the government is being overzealous in the case and that the government has never suggested the money wound up in the wrong hands.
“In my client’s case, the government had already visited his business in 2013 and never told him to stop doing it,” he added.
The three men are charged with using the filing of a false currency transaction report and operating an unlicensed money transmitting businesses. The crimes carry a maximum punishment of five years in prison.