Illegal US-China currency exchange investigation nets $446K, guilty plea

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A 37-year-old Las Vegas man has forfeited $446,330 and pleaded guilty  to charges of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

Liang Zhou is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 8 in a scheme involving illegal money transfers between the United States and China, according to a news release from the IRS Criminal Investigation Las Vegas Field Office.

Zhou admitted in a plea agreement entered today before US Magistrate Judge Karen S. Crawford that he sold hard currency in US dollars that he collected from various — and occasionally unknown — third parties.

“His customers were typically individuals with bank accounts in China who could not readily access cash in the United States due to capital controls that cap the amount of Chinese yuan that an individual can convert to foreign currency,” officials said. “Often these customers needed the money to gamble at the casinos in Las Vegas.”

Upon receiving U.S. dollars, the customers would transfer from a Chinese bank account an equivalent value in yuan, over their mobile phones in the United States, to a separate bank account in China designated by Zhou.

“Individuals and organizations operating outside the conventional financial system represent a clear and present danger to the international banking system and the ability of law enforcement to detect and confront the criminal activity,” said U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer.

Brewer commended prosecutors Daniel Silva and Mark Pletcher, as well as federal agents from Homeland Security Investigations, IRS Criminal Investigation Las Vegas Financial Crimes Task Force and the Drug Enforcement Administration for their work on the case.

In addition to the money he has already forfeited, Zhou could face a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison. Details of his plea agreement were not released.

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