A foreign national with local connections, currently wanted by federal authorities, is accused of laundering thousands of dollars through the Hard Rock Casino in Cincinnati – money that was then used by his wife to buy big-ticket items.
Ismail Shalash, 36, with dual Jordanian and Palestinian citizenship, is said to have sold luxury vehicles online to car dealerships in several states and failed to deliver these vehicles as promised after receiving payment.
Authorities examined his bank account and found that “almost immediately after receiving funds from the victims, Shalash would withdraw large sums in order to transfer those funds to the casino,” an FBI affidavit reads.
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Shalash attempted to defraud eight victims in five states out of a total of $ 3.48 million and succeeded in defrauding five victims in four states out of a total of $ 1.77 million, according to documents filed with the district court American. He sometimes used the pseudonym “Armand Brigante” of MDDI Inc. as part of his scheme to deceive buyers.
Documents indicate that Shalash laundered the money he obtained through his electronic fraud scheme by cashing large sums in the casino and later cashing that money in the form of credits.
Reports on the casino’s currency transactions revealed that from May 24 to August 24, Shalash cashed in $ 464,796 and $ 789,541, according to the documents. He also made a number of starting money deposits, or money deposited by a player for future games, at the casino in August.
“… Shalash redeemed tokens for a total significantly greater than the amount of the deposit,” the affidavit states. “The Hard Rock (Cincinnati) documents also reveal patterns of suspicious activity in which Shalash’s casino account was used as an intermediary to transfer large amounts of funds he received from victims through financial transaction channels. . “
A federal warrant was issued against Shalash in late September, but he and his new wife, Abir Mulawwah, of Houston, Texas, had already moved overseas to Morocco, according to documents. The couple met via Facebook and Mulawwah flew to Cincinnati where they were married.
Shalash depleted his bank accounts, withdrawing about $ 500,000 in cashier’s checks, before fleeing Cincinnati, according to the affidavit. Mulawwah also opened a safe at a PNC Bank branch in Houston, which is believed to be used to store funds illegally obtained by Shalash.
Documents indicate that FBI agents learned that Mulawwah planned to return to the United States in late November to retrieve the money stored in the safe. She arrived in Houston on November 19.
Back in Houston, Mulawwah “got rich on a shopping spree while paying for items in cash,” the affidavit states, adding that she “used to buy items at various retail stores in an attempt to bring back cash. items, especially clothing, in Morocco for herself and Shalash. “
“Mulawwah planned to return frequently to the United States and slowly bring money with her to Morocco,” the documents say. She also planned to “buy items at a high price in the United States and take them to Morocco for sale.”
On November 23, FBI agents obtained a search warrant for the safe and found approximately $ 300,000 in cash, the documents show.
Federal authorities confronted Mulawwah at George Bush International Airport on Sunday as she was about to take off from a Turkish Airlines flight, according to the affidavit.
Officers were able to overhear her phone conversation and “see Mulawwah’s phone that indicated she was communicating with a person she had programmed as ‘Ish’,” the documents say. “During the conversation, Mulawwah referred to money and Morocco, and expressed to the individual that she regretted marrying him.”
In an interview with the FBI, officials said, Mulawwah said she was no longer married to Shalash, denied knowing his whereabouts and told officers she had not been in contact. with him since September.
She was arrested by federal authorities and faces charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, misrepresentation and money laundering, according to documents.
According to the FBI website, Shalash is still at large for wire fraud and money laundering.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Feds Man Laundered Money Through Hard Rock Casino, Fled Country