Cash on delivery would have been wise

A man running a car sales scam laundered his ill-gotten gains through a casino, so says an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court. 36-year-old Ismail Shalash, a citizen of both Jordan and Palestine, is now on the lam in Morocco.

Shalash’s scheme began with a “business” he operated selling luxury cars online to car dealerships. At times he went by the name Armand Brigante, representing the company MDDI Inc. The scam was pretty simple: he got the dealership owners to send him payment before receipt of the vehicles and lo and behold, the vehicles never existed in the first place.

Shalash took five victims in four different states for $1.77 million and attempted to scam eight others in five states out of $3.48 million.

Washed the money through Hard Rock

Then, according to the affidavit, “almost immediately after receiving funds from victims, Shalash would make withdrawals of large sums for the purposes of transferring those funds into the casino.”

It was at the Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati that Shalash did his money laundering. From May 24 through August 24, he cashed in $464,796 at the casino and cashed out $789,541. Many of his deposits were “front money” deposits, essentially money he left in the casino’s hands for what he claimed would be future gambling.

Not only did Shalash cash out funds “totaling significantly more than the amount of deposit,” but documents from the casino show “patterns of suspicious activity in which Shalash’s casino account was used as a conduit to transfer significant amounts of funds he received from victims through financial transaction channels.”

Though record keeping regulations and electronic payments have made it more difficult in recent years, casinos are still businesses through which criminals can find ways to launder money, as they are cash-intensive.

True love

Though his wife, Abir Mulawwah, was arrested about a week ago, Shalash has been able to evade authorities. His lightning-fast courtship with Mulawwah also feels like it could be a way for him to launder his fraudulent earnings. She lived in Houston, they met on Facebook, and she flew to Cincinnati not long after, where the two wed.

They soon fled to Morocco, but before doing so, Shalash drained his bank accounts, withdrawing $500,000 by cashier’s check. Mulawwah opened a safe deposit box at a bank in Houston, where the FBI believed she was stashing some of Shalash’s scam money.

Federal agents figured out that Mulawwah had plans to return to the United States to get the safe deposit box money and sure enough, she flew to Houston on November 19. She proceeded to go an a luxury shopping spree and had further plans to keep coming back to the States to both gradually take cash back to Morocco and buy more luxury goods to sell back in the African nation.

Four days after Mulawwah arrived in Houston, FBI agents got a search warrant for the safe deposit box, in which they found $300,000 in cash. She was later arrested at the airport. Mulawwah told the FBI that she is not married to Shalash anymore (a whirlwind marriage!), has not been in contact with him since September, and has no idea where he is.

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