LEONIA, N.J. -- An Indian national busted by a Leonia detective in a $170,000 IRS phone scam that claimed 70 victims in 32 states was sentenced Friday to time served in exchange for a guilty plea and a promise to cooperate with prosecutors.
Her lawyer said that Nikita Patel, 25, "plans to stay in the area and go back to school.” But the INS has placed a deportation detainer on her, so she must remain in the Bergen County Jail for now.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Brian Lynch said he will work hard to see that Patel -- who was in the U.S. on an expired visa -- is sent back to India.
Her partner, Akash Satish Patel, also pleaded guilty and was deported.
The Patels -- who aren't related -- acted as runners, collecting funds wired by unsuspecting victims.
"In some cases, the victims lost their life savings," Leonia Police Chief Thomas P. Rowe said last fall. ******ALSO SEE: Mahwah Target Of IRS Phone Scam Fears Others Could Be Fooled ******
One of those victims contacted Leonia police from Lexington, KY in early September.
A scammer threatened to have him arrested if he didn't pay a $1,400 tax debt, then had him wire the money to a MoneyGram account in the name of "Vincent Arora" at a CVS store on Broad Avenue, he said.
Detective Michael Jennings got a surveillance video of the pickup, created screen shots and issued a statewide alert.
Contacting MoneyGram, he discovered that a "Vincent Arora" conducted 30 or so transactions in a week in various statewide locations.
MoneyGram later alerted Jennings that a scheduled transaction in Watchung. Police missed their target by 10 minutes, but surveillance video showed that it was the same man as in Leonia.
MoneyGram again alerted Jennings to a scheduled transaction at an Elizabeth CVS in early September. The manager gave him a description of the thieves and a license plate number.
Elizabeth police followed the car and seized the Patels, Rowe said.
Leonia police picked up the pair and found $9,140 in cash in the car, along with MoneyGram receipts from throughout the state. They also found $10,822 in Nikita Patel's apartment.
Authorities hope they can now find the ringleaders.
It'll be tough: The Patels said that they got victim information from call centers in India.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.