Five people from New Jersey have admitted to running an online scheme in which they tricked customers into sending a combined $1.3 million in payments for aircraft equipment that they never received, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said.
The fraudsters used phony websites advertising the sale of aircraft parts to lure businesses into wiring them money, officials said. More than 200 businesses purchased equipment from the websites over a five-year period and never received their orders, authorities said.
The ringleader of the scheme, Antonio P. Signo, 36, of Somerset, pleaded guilty to second-degree theft by deception. As part of the plea, he admitted that he orchestrated the conspiracy, created the websites, communicated with representatives from the victim companies and directed them to wire funds into bank accounts that he and his coconspirators controlled, prosecutors said.
Sonny Signo, 55, of Elizabeth, and his son Eddie S. Signo, 29, of Iselin, both pleaded guilty to second-degree receiving stolen property. Champagne Thompson, 30, of Iselin, and Cindy K. Drake, 37, of Somerset, have pleaded guilty to third-degree receiving stolen property.
Sonny and Eddie Signo and Thomson admitted in court proceedings on Monday they utilized bank accounts to receive and withdraw stolen funds, while Drake said she received thousands of dollars from the scheme, officials said.
“Putting a stop to financial crimes online and apprehending those who perpetrate them is a key function of our Office of Securities Fraud and Financial Crimes Prosecutions,” Platkin said. “The guilty pleas we secured make it clear that those who violate the law may try to use the anonymity of the internet to fool their victims, but they cannot hide from justice.”
As part of their plea agreements, the state will recommend an eight-year sentence for Antonio P. Signo, three-year sentences for Sonny and Eddie Signo and a term of probation for Thompson and Drake, according to the Attorney General.
The five were arrested in March 2022 following an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The victims of the scheme included operators of corporate and charter jet services throughout the U.S., France, Israel, and the U. K. Many of the companies reported attempting to reverse the wire transfers after they suspected fraud, before finding that the funds had already been withdrawn or the bank accounts had been closed, authorities said.
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Nicolas Fernandes may be reached at [email protected].