Global mitigation may try to avoid law enforcement agencies intent on bringing them to justice. But they’re not counting on the tenacity of public servants like Assistant United States Attorney Katherine Kopita of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York. Ms. Kopita’s work in prosecuting criminals who destroyed more than 1,300 small businesses, medical providers and schools by illegally billing them for false online directory listings is one reason why the FTC’s Criminal Liaison Unit (CLU) brought her direct She was honored with the Prosecuting Attorney Award. .
The scheme involved sending false invoices to small business owners and non-profit groups for online advertising services they never ordered or authorized. When people didn’t pay the bogus bills, the scammers sent them phoneme collection ads. Concerned about the consequences, many businesses cried “Uncle!” and they paid money that was not due to them.
AUSA Kopita upheld indictments against defendants Ivan and Stefan Chernev and a third co-conspirator in 2017, but then faced the challenge of tracking down the defendants and extraditing them to the United States. In cooperation with the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, Ms. Kopita extradited Ivan Chernev from Italy in 2019 and Stefan Chernev from Germany in 2022.
Ivan Chernev eventually pleaded guilty, admitting that he and his co-conspirators used the false billing scheme to steal money from small businesses, health care offices and schools. Chernev was sentenced to 68 months in prison and must pay a $1.25 million restitution order. The criminal case against Stefan Chernev is ongoing.
The good news for consumers—and the bad news for scammers—is that US enforcement agencies and their international counterparts often coordinate their efforts to prosecute lawbreakers. For example, in this case, AUSA Kopita worked with the United States Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with support from the FTC. Indeed, Ivan Chernev was no stranger to the FTC since the agency sued him in 2015 in FTC v. America’s Yellow Browser, obtaining a default judgment that prohibited it from marketing or selling business directories and directory listings and ordered it to pay $1.2 million in equity. monetary relief.
Law enforcement partnerships are an everyday part of the FTC’s work, but we still like to take a moment to recognize the excellent efforts of prosecutors who are dedicated to protecting consumers. That’s why the FTC’s Criminal Liaison Unit was proud to present its Prosecuting Attorney Award to Katherine Kopita at a ceremony last week in Albany, New York.
Since its inception in 2003, the FTC’s CLU has contributed to the successful prosecution of more than 1,000 criminal defendants – fraudulent telemarketers, phantom debt collectors, immigration scammers, and others who prey on consumers. Watch this video to learn more about CLU’s work. Looking for the inside story on how fraudsters may be targeting your company? Read FTC Scams and Your Small Business.