Japanese citizen sentenced for $557,000 bank fraud in which he recruited compatriots to open accounts

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OAKLAND, Calif. — A Japanese citizen was sentenced in federal court in Oakland July 11 to four years and three months in prison for conspiring in a $557,000 bank fraud in which he recruited compatriots to come to the United States to open accounts used in the scheme.

Yasuhiro Watanabe was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, who also ordered him to pay $556,744 in restitution to Bank of America and Compass Bank.

Watanabe pleaded guilty before Tigar in March to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said Watanabe admitted in the plea that approximately once per month between 2009 and 2013, he recruited people in Japan to travel with him to the United States to open accounts at bank branches in California, Nevada and Arizona.

Watanabe would fund the accounts with wire transfers of between $1,000 and $2,000 from bank accounts in Japan. He typically paid his associates’ travel expenses and a fee of $1,000, Haag said.

Watanabe would then use the bank debit cards in Japan to buy items such as train tickets and jewelry that cost more than the amount remaining in the bank accounts, and would then resell the goods in Japan for cash.

Prosecutors said in a filing that the scheme caused Bank of America to lose about $450,000 and Compass Bank $106,000.

Watanabe’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Angela Hansen, unsuccessfully sought a lesser sentence of three years and one month in prison.

Hansen said in a sentencing brief that Watanabe is “deeply ashamed and remorseful for what he did” and that he carried out the scheme to support his wife and two young children.

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