RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Six men who used a chain of fictitious furniture stores to steal $1.5 million and hack a Virginia server hosting financial data were sentenced to a combined 31 years in prison.
The six men — Mahmoud Aljibawi, Wael Jibawi, Yanal Khrisat, Mohammad Jibawi, Jamel Eljebawe and Alaelddin Aljibawi — pleaded guilty in April to 18 counts ranging from identity theft to computer fraud. Over a five-year period, from April 2017 to January 2022, prosecutors say Wael Jibawi led the conspiracy, which used fake furniture stores to defraud lending companies.
At the core of the scheme was the exploitation of “lease-to-own” financing companies. The normal process for this kind of financing, using one of their victims, West Creek financial, as an example, is shown below.
Using their network of 25 furniture stores — some of which were legitimate and some of which never existed at all — the defendants applied for financing on behalf of customers as if they had sold furniture to them.
But they filled out the applications using stolen credit card and identity information. Once West Creek and other “lease-to-own” companies paid the stores up front, the “customers” disappeared — and West Creek was left on the hook for the price of the furniture.
They also posed as the owners of a real furniture store in Massachusetts, convincing West Creek to give them access to the store’s accounts — then promptly drained them, taking the money for themselves.
And while the defendants committed the crimes in Virginia — defrauding Virginia-based companies and breaking into Virginia-based servers — the defendants themselves were 700 miles away, in Chicago.
The Man Behind it All
The sentences passed down against the six defendants varied widely, from less than two years for Yanal Khrisat — who was involved in just two of the groups’ myriad frauds — to more than a decade for Wael Jibawi, the man prosecutors say masterminded the entire operation.
“His conspirators reported that Jibawi also demanded at least 50 percent of the proceeds generated by these frauds, typically provided to him in cash,” they wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
But in his own sentencing letter, Jibawi’s counsel wrote that he was pressured into devising the scheme when his family’s furniture store fell into debt.
“His father borrowed money he could not repay to keep the business going,” they wrote. “He would constantly struggle to keep employees he could not pay and inventory he could not afford.”
A table showing the six defendants’ charges and sentences, provided by the Department of Justice, is included below: