At 21, Destiny Asjee Rowland set up Asjee Luxury based out of Sunrise in July 2017. By the end of the month, Asjee Luxury had $1,651,699 in its TD Bank account.
By any standard, that's a lucrative first month for a one-person company that produces no goods or services. The income came from Rowland's part of a $16 million international email con game victimizing businesses that federal prosecutors say involved at least 23 people in South Florida, 42 in the United States and 74 people around the world.
Those are the arrest numbers announced this week from "Operation Wire Wire," a six-month collaboration of agencies that included the FBI; the Department of Treasury; the Secret Service, formerly a part of the Treasury, now a part of Homeland Security; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Justice Department.
Their attempt at stemming the cash flow from fooled U.S. businesses to criminals elsewhere resulted in arrests of 29 people in Nigeria, one in Canada, one in Poland and one in Mauritius. Once the money gets suckered out of a business, "money mules" move the money from U.S. banks to bank accounts in China, Poland and elsewhere with a mercurial swiftness that belies their nickname.
Unlike drug mules, money mules barely have to leave their couch to move their loot. And that couch likely sat in South Florida air conditioning.
The indictments accuse all the South Floridians of being a money mule at one time or another and moving $10 million. That includes Rowland, who already has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and will be sentenced July 9. Her case, as laid out in her guilty plea's admission of facts, shows how this scam works.
Once Asjee Luxury was incorporated on July 5, 2017, Rowland opened bank accounts for Asjee Luxury at TD Bank, "so that proceeds of a wire fraud scam could be deposited into the bank accounts; Rowland then agreed to have a portion of the fraudulently obtained funds wired to other bank accounts in return for a cut of the proceeds."
Above Rowland's labor level, criminal management targeted a Wisconsin business that often did business with an Illinois company. The Wisconsin company's accounting manager got an e-mail from the address of J.M., the Illinois company's credit manager. But the sender wasn't J.M.
The e-mail said the Illinois company couldn't accept payments into their current account. Instead, the e-mail told the Wisconsin company to send the money to one of the Illinois' company's international accounts. C.S. from the Wisconsin company sent back an e-mail telling the electronic impostor the Wisconsin company couldn't send payments to an international account. No problem, said the fake J.M.
The fake J.M. gave instructions for wiring the payments to a TD Bank account number ending in 5379 with Asjee Luxury as the beneficiary and listed a TD Bank address in Miami.
"C.S. ultimately authorized an ACH payment of $1,651,699.22 from (the Wisconsin company's) Bank of America account ending in 9698 to TD Bank account 5379," Rowland's admission said. "C.S. had been fooled into thinking that J.M. .. .had actually made the payment request, and that the bank account number provided was actually held by (the Illinois company)."
This occurred on July 28. The Wisconsin company didn't learn of the flim-flammery until Aug. 2. Fortunately for the Wisconsin company, when Rowland was busted, the money was still in Asjee Luxury's account, minus $8,000 Rowland withdrew as payment for her and her recruiter Hollywood's Cynthia Rodriguez. In other situations, the money got wired away.
“In most cases, once the mistake is made and the money is wired — it’s gone — but we are becoming more adept and creative in our tactics resulting in multiple recent successes recovering of victim funds," Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Field Office Brian Swain said in a statement.
The 23 South Floridians indicted are in various stages of prosecution. They are:
▪ Angeles De Jesus Angulo, Hialeah, 21 — Angulo is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering through his company, Angeles Premier Trades, out of a Hialeah house.
▪ Natalie Armona, Opa-locka, 23 — Armona is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. She was the only officer of Armona Furniture Design Concept & Textile Inc., which used Armona's Opa-locka house as an address, according to the criminal complaint. The complaint says the company was used to con $803,000 from three different companies, then used to wire money in six- and five-digit chunks to Warsaw, Poland; Shenzhen, China; and Hong Kong. Armona, the indictment says, moved up to recruiting and management of Angelo Santa Cruz, Angeles De Jesus Angulo, Jose Rivera, Sebastian Loayza, Jennifer Ruiz and others.
▪ Alexis Fernandez Cruz, North Miami, 25 — Fernandez Cruz's Alexis Universal, based in a North Miami apartment, is still active as his money laundering case heads for trial.
▪ Ariel Champaign Edwards, Miami Gardens, 27 — Edwards, the president of Ariel Prime Trades, based in her Miami Gardens home, faces money laundering charges. She's out on $80,000 bond.
▪ Juan Frias, North Miami-Dade, 33 — Frias is charged with money laundering through Ocean Surplus, a company based in a North Miami-Dade house about a mile from Miami-Dade College's North Campus.
▪ Jose Brito Garcia, Hollywood, 36 — Garcia faces two counts of money laundering after a year as the sole agent and director of Brito Commercial Products.
▪ Roberto Carlos Garcia, North Miami-Dade, 24 — The indictment says Garcia engaged in three counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering through his RCG Deals Inc.
▪ Gustavo Gomez, Hollywood, 33 — Gomez is charged with four counts of money laundering. His indictment claims he ran a shell company, AG Universal Links, and "recruited others to become money mules, under the auspices of offering them a "job'' conducting wire transfers or managing invoices." Then, their personal information would be used to set up shell companies.
▪ Jessica "Chuchi" Hyde, Palmetto Bay, 31 — Hyde is facing one count of money laundering. Hyde Quality Inc., unlike most of the other alleged shell companies, is still active, according to state online records.
▪ Selene Joya, Miami Gardens, 27 — Joya faces four counts of money laundering as the incorporator, sole director and president of alleged shell company Joya Star Life.
▪ Sebastian Loyaza, Cutler Bay, 24 — Loyaza is the only officer of still-active company Sure Trades and is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
▪ Jaremy Lucia Mena, Miami, 26 — Mena has three counts of money laundering hanging over him. His alleged shell company was Jaremy International, which the indictment places in North Miami Beach, but which Sunbiz.org places on the south edge of Miami's Little Havana area.
▪ Bryant Ortega, Sunrise, 22 — Ortega is facing one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering. Sunbiz.org says he's the sole officer of still-active Bryant Tech Deals out of Sunrise and the indictment says he also acted as recruiter for other mules, including Roberto Carlos Gracia.
▪ Yirielkys Pacheco Fernandez, Miami, 34 — As a jury trial neared on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering, Pacheco Fernandez decided to change her plea. The hearing was set for Wednesday afternoon, but she filed for a 30-day continuance to "meet with an immigration lawyer and discuss the consequences of pleading guilty, since she is a Cuban National," the filing said. The address for her YF Nationwide is a Miami apartment a few blocks from the Richard Gersten Justice Building.
▪ Eliot Periera, Miami Lakes, 25 — Periera, charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering, was the president of Eliot Products & Arts Inc. for the 17 months it existed. The indictment calls that a shell company and says he later managed and recruited money mules.
▪ Melissa Rios, Hialeah, 22 — Rios faces one count of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. She was the president and lone director of Taihan Fiberoptics Inc., based in a Hialeah apartment during its one year of existence. The indictment accuses her of recruiting Armona as a money mule.
▪ Jose E. Rivera, Miami Gardens, 28 — Rivera's charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering through Rivera Worldwide.
▪ Destiny Rowland, Sunrise, 22 — Rowland has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. See above for details.
▪ Cynthia Rodriguez, Hollywood, 30 — Rodriguez has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and will be sentenced July 11. Her admission of facts says Rodriguez was an upwardly mobile criminal, starting doing the on-the-ground work of a money mule, then moving up "to recruiting and managing numerous additional money mules in the South Florida area," including Rowland.
Also, her admission says, "As a result of Rodriguez's participation in the money laundering conspiracy, she and the co-conspirators that she recruited laundered at least approximately $4,760,669.80."
▪ Jennifer Ruiz, North Miami-Dade, 23 — The president of Josette Quality had a change of plea hearing Wednesday morning on her money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering charges.
▪ Angelo Santa Cruz, Hialeah, 23 — Four counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering have been charged to the sole director and president of still-active ASC Worldwide. Santa Cruz also is accused of recruiting Alexis Fernandez Cruz and Yirielkys Pacheco Fernandez. That might be a problem for him if Pacheco Fernandez changes her plea.
▪ Lourdes Washington, West Miami-Dade, 28 — Washington has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and will be sentenced July 9. Her admission of facts says after her recruitment by Cynthia Rodriguez, Washington set up LW Nationwide and opened a Bank of America account ending in 0358. Real estate attorney "B.D." had a client "T.J." who always e-mailed from the address "(T.J.'s name)@themarstongroup.com."
But on Feb. 15, 2017, B.D. got e-mails from "(T.J.'s name)@gmx.us" saying T.J. was leaving town unexpectedly so, instead of mailing the funds, please send them into T.J.'s personal trading account: a Bank of America account that ended in 0358 belonging to LW Nationwide. B.D. wired $37,225 into the account. On Feb. 17, 2017, Washington wired $31,814 from LW Nationwide's Bank of America account to Zhejiang Oudi Machine Co. LTD in Zhejiang, China.
▪ Hillary Lee Williams, South Miami-Dade , 26 — Williams has been charged with two counts of money laundering. The H Lee W Trade Group actually remains an active company after 15 months (somebody has kept up with the paperwork), according to Sunbiz.org.
An earlier version of this story gave incorrect information about Ariel Edwards.