Woman from Henrico-based company pleads guilty to fraud

A local woman recently pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Memphis, Tenn., to two counts of mail and wire fraud.  Mary Ann Smith, 42, had served as the vice president of marketing for International Business Network (IBN), formerly based at Paragon Place in western Henrico County. 

Information provided by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in Central Virginia contributed to her arrest last year on charges that she had preyed on individuals seeking to obtain student visas. It followed a year-long investigation by the BBB and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

In February 2009, Smith sent emails to two residents of the Memphis area, describing a nonexistent student visa program in which the U.S. government supposedly exchanged students with foreign countries on a one-for-one basis. Smith falsely told her Memphis victims that their relatives could obtain student visas and that, five years after the victims' relatives obtained those visas, the visa holders could become legal, permanent residents.

Smith advised them that her services would cost $6,480 per applicant and that the processing time would take six to eight months. After receiving $25,920 from the victims, Smith persuaded each to sign contracts to "sponsor" four of their relatives.

At her guilty-plea hearing, Smith admitted using a “spoofing” service that allowed her to alter her voice on phone calls and make it appear that those calls originated from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.

Although Smith pled guilty to only two counts, all of the charged conduct will be taken into account as relevant conduct at

Smith's sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 21. In addition, Smith agreed to disclose the existence of and forfeit any assets derived from her crime. 

 “We’re delighted that we could assist law enforcement in shutting down this scam artist,” said Tom Gallagher, the BBB’s president and CEO.  He said his staff routinely works very closely with police from various jurisdictions in investigating scams.
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