U.S. District Courthouse, Cedar Rapids

HAMPTON — A Colombian woman has been charged with bilking a Hampton company of thousands of dollars after hijacking the business operator’s email.

A federal grand jury Tuesday returned an indictment charging Karina Henao with wire fraud and money laundering in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids.

The charges come as part of an investigation into a business email compromise investigation that took $87,400 from Buresh Building Systems’ bank account in October 2017.

Henao is a native of Colombia who has been living in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, as a permanent resident. Authorities allege she was working for a criminal organization that operated in the fall of 2017 to defraud people throughout the United States.

The organization allegedly gained access to email accounts of business leaders through a “DocuSign” rouse — emails told users to sign into their accounts and reset their passwords. Then members of the group imitated the business officials, asking workers to wire money to bank accounts they controlled and then sending the proceeds overseas.

Court records allege Henao controlled bank accounts that received $451,000 through the scheme.

In October 2017, someone infiltrated the email of the president of Buresh Building Systems and used the account to direct an employee to wire money to an account of K Henao Elite Inc. at SunTrust Bank in Florida, according to court records.

Company officials later determined the president’s email account had been accessed, and the perpetrators had set up systems within the account to hide the fraud-related messages when the president was using the account.

Investigators with Immigration and Customs Enforcement determined Henao was the registered agent for K Henao Elite and the signatory for the SunTrust Bank account, which had been set up a week before the wire transfer with an opening deposit of $100. After the transfer, Henao withdrew $6,200 from the account, apparently taking a cut for herself, court records state.

Investigators also tracked other banking activity connected with Henao’s company and found it had accounts at Bank of America Bank NA and TD Bank opened in September 2017. They also discovered wire transfers to those accounts linked to other email takeover schemes involving companies in Minnesota and Oregon. The gains from those activities were sent to banks in China, records state.

In the Oregon case, $57,200 was wired from Rick’s Custom Fencing and Decking to the TD Bank account Sept. 28. The following day, $50,860 from the TD account was sent to the account of Zhejiang Oudi Machine Co. at a bank in China.

Then on Oct. 2, the Oregon company wired $68,300 to the account at TD Bank, and $50,000 was passed along to an account for Romexco Limited at a Hong Kong bank.

Another wire transfer from Rick’s happened Oct. 4, this time for $82,500 with $11,000 sent to an account for Haining Santo Trading Co. in China. Another $76,000 from the TD Bank account was wired to Niche Holding Ltd. at a bank in Taiwan.

Officials at Rick’s told agents investigating Henao the wire transfers were the results of fraud, and they had reported the crimes to the FBI earlier, court records state.

The Bank of America account had been used in a swindle that took $83,000 from the architecture firm Boarman Kroos Vogel Group of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Sept. 27 using a similar method, according to court records.

Officials at the Minneapolis company told investigators the money had been moved following an email request purporting to be from the company’s CEO. The scammers did a good job of mimicking the CEO, at one time responding to questions about the need for the wire transfer by saying he couldn’t talk on the phone because he was about to get on a plane. The real CEO was actually boarding a flight at that time, and company officials believe the scammers knew this because they had access to his email and calendar.

The con artists had asked for two more wire transfers from the Minnesota company, but the scam was discovered before the money was sent.

Each of the wire transfers were usually accompanied by a withdrawal of a smaller amount, and investigators said those withdrawals appeared to be Henao receiving a payment for transferring the larger sums of money.

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