CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Over $1.5 million in seized funds have been returned to Appalachian State University following an alleged fraud and laundering scheme in 2016, according to reports.

U.S. Attorney R. Andrew Murray of the Western District of N.C. announced Wednesday that $1,542,442.33 will be distributed to Appalachian State (ASU) following successful civil forfeiture proceedings against money seized from bank accounts controlled by alleged fraudsters and money launderers who targeted the higher education institution.

John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charlotte office, joined Murray in Wednesday’s announcement.

“Today’s announcement is an example of the results we get when we use civil forfeiture laws to swiftly stop crime and provide financial relief to victims of fraud,” said Murray. “In this case, the FBI located and seized the stolen funds even before criminal investigative targets had been identified or a criminal case had been filed. Under these circumstances, civil forfeiture is the only area of law that enables law enforcement to swiftly obtain warrants to secure stolen funds, and to prevent the perpetrators of fraud from accessing them. Identifying and seizing ill-gotten gains and returning forfeited funds to victims is a priority for my office. I will use all of the tools at my disposal to make victims whole, and civil asset forfeiture is an invaluable tool in that arsenal.”

According to allegations contained in the civil forfeiture complaint, beginning in or around Dec. 2016, one or more alleged fraudsters convinced ASU staff to forward over $1.9 million to one or more companies operated by them. According to court records, the fraudsters posed in emails as a legitimate construction company building ASU’s new health sciences facility. After receiving the funds, the alleged fraudsters used numerous bank wire transfers to launder the money among various companies.

Court records indicate that, upon discovery of the fraud, ASU notified the FBI and fully assisted in the investigation. The FBI ultimately located $1,542,442.33 of the money dispersed in multiple bank accounts and obtained forfeiture seizure warrants for it, preventing the wrongdoers from absconding with ASU’s funds. Following that, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a civil complaint in federal court. Upon conclusion of the civil forfeiture case, the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section authorized distribution of all forfeited funds to ASU.

During the announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray commended the work of the FBI. U.S. Attorney Murray also thanked ASU officials for their prompt efforts to notify law enforcement of the fraud.

Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Bain-Creed of the United States Attorney’s Office in Charlotte handled the proceedings.

In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the Western District of N.C. (WDNC) collected $23,476,979.90 in criminal and civil actions. Of this amount, $4,719,016.01 was collected in criminal actions and $18,757,963.89 was collected in civil actions. Additionally, WDNC worked with other U.S. Attorney’s Offices and components of the Department of Justice to collect an additional $7,216,680.36 in cases pursued jointly with these offices. Overall, the Justice Department collected just over $15 billion in civil and criminal actions in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2017.

The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, along with the department’s litigating divisions, are responsible for enforcing and collecting civil and criminal debts owed to the U.S. and criminal debts owed to federal crime victims. The law requires defendants to pay restitution to victims of certain federal crimes who have suffered a physical injury or financial loss. While restitution is paid to the victim, criminal fines and felony assessments are paid to the Justice Department’s Crime Victims’ Fund, which distributes the funds to state victim compensation and victim assistance programs.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, working with partner agencies and divisions, also collected $2,768,013 in asset forfeiture actions in during the fiscal year. Forfeited assets deposited into the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund are used to restore funds to crime victims and for a variety of law enforcement purposes.

“Every day, federal prosecutors and staff in the U.S. Attorney’s Office work hard to protect the citizens of the Western District of North Carolina and to ensure that criminals do not profit from their illegal activities,” said Murray. “Their diligent efforts enable us to achieve justice, recover taxpayer dollars, secure restitution for victims of federal crimes, and protect the public from fraud, waste and abuse.”

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