Lawyer sentenced; invoked attorney-client privilege to conceal fraud

Illinois Lawyer Sentenced to Nine Years in Prison for Sophisticated Wire Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme

A Belgian and Lebanese national holding an Illinois law license was sentenced today for his role in a scheme to defraud victims in multiple states, many of whom thought they were closing real estate transactions or sending money to romantic partners. Once the lawyer received the funds, he sent large sums to fellow fraudsters overseas and took a cut for himself, which he used to spend on luxury items and an international lifestyle.

Hassan A. Abbas, 55, of Belgium, was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin to nine years in prison and three years of supervised release. Abbas was also ordered to pay restitution and forfeiture of $2,001,853 and to pay a $600 special assessment. In May 2022, Abbas was found guilty by a federal jury of one count of money laundering conspiracy, one count of money laundering, two counts of wire fraud, and two counts of unlawful monetary transactions.

“Mr. Abbas abused his law degree in furtherance of a scheme that stole millions of dollars from innocent victims across the country. All of Mr. Abbas’s lies and schemes have finally caught up with him. He was an equal opportunity scammer. Whether it was a fake romance or a fake real estate deal, he took advantage of victims by laundering their hard-earned money. He will now have nine years to realize the error of his ways,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins.

“With today’s sentence, Hassan Abbas has learned his fate for exploiting his law degree to defraud unwitting victims and moving that money overseas in a sophisticated scheme to avoid getting caught,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “The FBI is committed to holding the criminals behind these scams accountable for the harm they do to everyday citizens and our financial institutions resulting in millions of dollars in losses.”

Between June 2017 and January 2019, Abbas and others defrauded victims through a series of romance, business email compromise (BEC), and other scams designed to trick victims into wiring funds to bank accounts that Abbas controlled. A BEC scheme is a type of sophisticated fraud that typically targets individuals and businesses that engage in wire transfer payments. The fraud is carried out by compromising and/or “spoofing” legitimate business email accounts and then communicating with victims through email to cause them to transfer funds to accounts controlled by the scammers. In romance scams, perpetrators generally create fictitious online personas to develop online romantic relationships with individuals in the U.S.; they then leverage those relationships to obtain money and/or property. Abbas participated in both types of scheme by receiving victims’ money and moving funds abroad before victims could recall the wires or banks became suspicious.

Abbas incorporated at least five shell companies with no legitimate business and opened bank accounts in their names. Individual and corporate victims of BECs and romance scams were instructed to wire funds to Abbas’s sham corporate accounts. Some victims, including two Massachusetts residents, were tricked into wiring money to Abbas while in the process of closing on a home purchase. The perpetrators also instructed victim businesses to remit invoice payments to Abbas’s accounts. Other victims, including a Massachusetts woman, were led to believe they were transferring funds for the benefit of their romantic partners.

Upon receiving money from victims, Abbas transferred a portion to his personal bank accounts and spent victim funds on personal expenses, including luxury goods and international travel. He also wired victim funds to foreign bank accounts of overseas co-conspirators.

When approached by financial institutions about his account activity, Abbas disguised the purposes of wire transfers to bank investigators, claiming that certain transfers were for non-existent “clients” and, in one instance, insisting that information about the wires was protected by the attorney-client privilege.

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