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American executives' names surface in Panama Papers

USA TODAY USA TODAY 6/04/2016 Aamer Madhani

FILE - Benjamin Wey, the head of New York Global Group, exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse following his hearing in New York September 10, 2015. © REUTERS/Stephanie Keith FILE - Benjamin Wey, the head of New York Global Group, exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse following his hearing in New York September 10, 2015. The names of hundreds of Americans have surfaced in the Panama Papers, including a handful of U.S. businessmen accused or convicted by U.S. authorities for ties to financial crimes or Ponzi schemes.

The identities of the Americans emerged from the treasure trove of documents obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and hundreds of other media organizations.

The consortium has so far identified more than 200 people with U.S. addresses who own companies in the leaked data from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Some appear to be retirees purchasing real estate in places like Costa Rica and Panama, according to the consortium. But there are at least a few Americans in the leaked files who have faced charges for serious financial crimes in the U.S.

Here are some of the Americans who have been charged or convicted of financial crimes that have surfaced in the massive data leak, according to the media consortium. Their identities were first reported by McClatchy Newspapers.

Benjamin Wey , a Wall Street financier, was charged in September with securities fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering  for using family members to help him stealthily amass ownership of larger blocks of stock in companies through so-called “reverse merger” transactions between Chinese companies and U.S. shell companies. In the process, he reaped tens of millions of dollars of illegal profit by manipulating the companies’ stock prices, the indictment charges. Prosecutors say he was aided by his banker in Switzerland, Seref Dogan Erbek, who was also charged in the alleged scheme.

The shell companies were incorporated offshore, according to the indictment. McClatchy reports Mossack Fonseca helped set up the offshore companies used in the stock manipulation. Wey in a message via Twitter said that there is no evidence that he's ever owned a foreign account, controlled a foreign account or been a signatory of any account set up by Panamanian law firm.

“Ben Wey fashioned himself a master of industry, but as alleged, he was merely a master of manipulation," said Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Attorney of New York, in announcing Wey's indictment.

Wey, president of the New York Global Group, also made headlines last year when a jury awarded an $18 million verdict to a former intern who had accused Wey of sexual harassment and stalking. (A judge last week said he would give Wey a new damages trial if the plaintiff, Hanna Bouveng, did not agree to reduce damages to $5.65 million, Reuters reported.)  The young woman said Wey coerced her into four sexual encounters and then fired her after finding out that she had a boyfriend.

Wey denies that he ever had sex with Bouveng, and says her lawsuit, in which she initially sought $850 million, is an extortion attempt.

Igor Olenicoff, the Russian-born billionaire and commercial real estate mogul, was listed as a shareholder of Olen Oil Management Limited in the leaked data. He was sentenced in 2007 to two years of probation for tax evasion and forced to pay a $52 million fine for failing to declare more than $200 million stashed in offshore shell companies. Olenicoff's California-based firm owns thousands of residential and commercial properties.

In 2014, the real estate tycoon was ordered to pay $450,000 to sculptor Don Wakefield in damages after Olenicoff and his company were found to have cloned several large-scale, abstract sculptures from the artist that were used to decorate various properties.

Robert Miracle, of Bellevue, Wash., was sentenced in 2011 to 13 years in prison and three years of supervised release for mail fraud and tax evasion for his part in a $65 million Ponzi scheme involving an Indonesia oilfield. 

Miracle sold shares in Laramie Petroleum, MCube Petroleum, Diski Limited Liability Company, Basilam Limited Liability Company, and Halmahera-Rembang Limited Liability Company. The Washington man and his co-defendents told investors the companies made money from oil field development and services on oil and gas fields in Indonesia. In fact, the proceeds of later investors were being used to pay off the investments of earlier investors, according to the Justice Department.

Between September 2004 and October 2007, Miracle took in more than $65.3 million and paid out $36.7 million in the dividends.

“The bulk of the remaining funds were used to develop oil and gas fields in Indonesia, as well as to pay for a lavish lifestyle for Miracle,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western District of Washington said in a statement at time of his guilty plea.

John Michael “Red" Crim was convicted in Philadelphia in 2008, along with two associates, for being part of a plot in which he recruited investors to use phony trusts to cheat the IRS out of $10 million in revenue.

Crim, co-founder of the Texas-based Commonwealth Trust Company, “encouraged investors to place income and assets into trusts for the purpose of evading federal income taxes,” according the office of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The consortium also reports Jonathan Kaplan, a former Massachusetts executive implicated in a bribery scheme more than eight years ago, was among those whose names who surfaced in the papers.

Kaplan in 2008 was sentenced to five years of probation for his part in accepting more than $400,000 in kickbacks from a Jordanian national. Kaplan, vice president of iBasis, a Massachusetts company that supplied prepaid calling cards to retail distributors, allegedly gave favorable pricing, credit terms and inside information to Jordanian national Fares Khraisat, the owner and operator of Zam-Zam Telecard, based in Bridgeport, Conn.


Follow USA TODAY Chicago correspondent Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad


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