Four US residents have been charged with a series of money laundering offenses linked to a major “pig butchery” fraud syndicate.
Lu Zhang, 36, of Alhambra, California; Justin Walker, 31, of Cypress, California; Joseph Wong, 32, of Rosemead, California; and Hailong Zhu, 40, of Naperville, Illinois, are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, concealment of money laundering and international money laundering.
The quartet is accused of conspiring to create shell companies and open bank accounts to launder proceeds from hog slaughter scams – a type of investment fraud – as well as other schemes fraudulent.
They transferred the funds to U.S. and international bank accounts, with more than $20 million directly deposited into bank accounts linked to the four, according to the Department of Justice (DoJ). The pig slaughter scheme allegedly involved at least 284 suspicious transactions and resulted in losses to victims of more than $80 million.
Pork butchery is derived from a Chinese expression meaning the operating mode of fraudsters who “fatten” their victims before killing them. Typically, victims are approached out of the blue online, through unsolicited messages or on dating sites, with the scammer attempting to establish a relationship to gain their trust.
Once they realize this has happened, they will suggest the victim invest in a cryptocurrency system. However, even though the apps they access may show them an increase in their investment, the funds are simply diverted to the scammer’s bank account, never to be seen again.
By the time the victim realizes it, it is too late.
Zhang and Walker are in custody and face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, although the other two remain at large.
Investment fraud was the highest-paying type of cybercrime in 2022, according to the FBI. Scammers have made more than $3.3 billion from just over 30,000 reported incidents.