OAKLAND – Yasuhiro Watanabe was sentenced July 11 to 51 months in prison, and ordered to pay $556,744.40 in restitution for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson.
Watanabe pleaded guilty on March 21 to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. According to the plea agreement, Watanabe admitted that, between 2009 and early September 2013, he engaged in a scheme to defraud Compass Bank and Bank of America. The scheme involved multiple participants, and victimized bank branches in the Northern District of California, Nevada, and Arizona, among other places.
Approximately once a month, Watanabe recruited individuals in Japan to travel with him to the U.S. for the purpose of opening bank accounts at Compass Bank and Bank of America. Once the accounts were opened, Watanabe funded the accounts by causing a $1,000-$2,000 wire transfer to be made from bank accounts in Japan, to the newly opened accounts held in the names of his co-conspirators.
Watanabe typically paid his co-conspirators’ travel costs, and a fee of approximately $1,000, for their role in the scheme. He directed them to obtain debit cards for the accounts and give them to him. He then used the cards in Japan to purchase goods valued in amounts in excess of the funds on deposit. Watanabe then sold those goods for cash. His fraud scheme caused combined losses to Compass Bank and Bank of America of $556,744.40.
Watanabe, 39, of Japan, was initially charged by complaint on Oct. 25, 2013. On Feb. 11, he was charged by Information with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in violation of 18 United States Code, Section 1349. Under the plea agreement, Watanabe pleaded guilty to that sole count.
Watanabe has been in federal custody since his arrest at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Oct. 27, 2013.
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar following the defendant’s guilty plea. Tigar also sentenced the defendant to a three-year period of supervised release, in the event that Watanabe is not deported following his release from incarceration. The defendant will begin serving the sentence immediately.
Thomas E. Stevens is the assistant U.S. attorney who is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Kathleen Turner. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI.