International Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme
Ellis herself laundered several million dollars’ worth of fraud proceeds through her bank accounts and other accounts under her control, and she also arranged for the creation of high-quality forgeries of checks and other documents used in the schemes. Her daughter, a bank employee in Virginia, helped create counterfeit cashier’s checks and monitored the flow of money between accounts used by the criminals. And Cortese, a long-time lawyer with plenty of knowledge about how law firms operated, helped launder money through law firms’ trust accounts and often met in person with individuals to pick up the cash withdrawn from receiver bank accounts.
“Victims were always instructed to wire money into U.S. accounts under the control of conspirators,” explained Williams. “Then, money mules would physically withdraw the money and move it quickly to other accounts in the United States and, eventually—often using money transmitting services—to overseas accounts. And all of this happened before victims even realized they had been defrauded.” Conspirators in Canada, Nigeria, South Korea, Senegal, and elsewhere helped coordinate the fraud from abroad.
The FBI-led investigation was successful primarily because of its effective and complex “follow the money” approach, explained Williams, which included tracing the flow of illegal funds from beginning to end. Also playing a key role in the outcome of the case was assistance from other law enforcement agencies, including the Toronto Police Service.
The defendants in this case were more than amply compensated for their criminal activities, but according to Williams, Ellis lived an especially lavish lifestyle. “She owned a large home in Texas along with various businesses and other real estate, bought luxury vehicles and other expensive items, and traveled the world on the millions of dollars she made off the backs of her hard-working victims,” he said.
And according to court documents, neither she nor Cortese ever expressed any remorse over the damage they left in the wake of their actions.