BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A woman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to tax evasion on November 29- a few days before she was scheduled to go to trial.
Lauren Montillo, 47, of Owings Mills, Maryland, said in her plea agreement that from 2010 through 2015, Montillo and her co-conspirators sought at least $8.7 million in advance fees from foreign and United States victims, purporting to offer access to exotic bank financial instruments.
Victims paid $4,342,540 in advance fees into Hong Kong bank accounts or attorney escrow accounts and received nothing in return.
For tax years 2012 through 2014, Montillo reported no income other than $100, evading a substantial amount in income taxes.
Montillo and her co-conspirators created shell companies, with associated websites, email addresses and bank accounts through sites including GoDaddy, which they used to perpetrate the fraud.
From 2010 to 2015, Montillo and other co-conspirators used GoDaddy to host websites for shell companies such as MLL Holdings, The Bussola Group, Worldwide Escrow Holdings, LTd., International Insurance of Nebraska, Atlas Investment Bancorp, Entirety Capital, GPF Global and Atlas-Gayle Trust.
Each of these companies had associated email addresses, which Montillo and her co-conspirators opened and used.
Montillo’s father opened a bank account for Worldwide Escrow at the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, Hong Kong with Montillo as a signatory. Montillo’s father resigned from the company in April 2011. In March 2011, Montillo and her co-conspirator opened two more bank accounts in Hong Kong, the MLL Holdings and the Skywall bank accounts so they could bank over the internet.
Montillo’s father also opened an escrow account in the name of his mother-in-law, a licensed attorney in Maryland who had stopped practicing law in 2007. She was not aware the escrow account had been opened in her name.
Montillo’s co-conspirator, Eric Becker, was her former fiance. Becker developed and Montillo edited, websites for the various phony businesses, which purported to offer access to financial instruments such as standby letters of credit, bank guarantees, bonds or private placement trading platforms.
Montillo and her co-conspirators had no access to any financial instruments. They obtained advance fee payments from a victim that would purportedly gain access to a private placement trading platform.
Montillo frequently used the name “Kati Conti” in the frauds and used a burner phone so that after a scam was concluded, she could “go dark” and stop communicating with the victims.
In all, the scheme was aiming to earn at least $8.7 million from victims, and actually got $4,342,540.
As part of her plea agreement, Montillo will be required to forfeit a money judgment in the amount of $849,993.12 and to pay restitution in the full amount of the loss, which is at least $4,342,540.
Montillo faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud conspiracy and five years in prison for tax evasion. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 12, 2019 at 10 a.m.
Three defendants were charged in a related case in the Western District of Texas, James Edward Cox, Kelly Ray Coronado, and Gordon Richard Moscowitz. They have pled guilty to wire fraud conspiracy (Cox and Coronado) and money-laundering conspiracy (Moskowitz) and are scheduled for sentencing on February 6, 2019. Becker was indicted with Montillo but has since died. Montillo’s father died in 2016.