When FBI and Homeland Security agents descended on Greenwood last week to raid Dairy Queen and a house in Hunter’s Creek, it was more than 24 hours from when the news broke until charging documents about the case were unsealed.
In the meantime, residents swapped stories — some taller than others — about what might have led federal investigators to the Emerald City, including a discredited rumor that Greenwood’s Dairy Queen was serving up burgers that contained human meat.
Internet sleuthing uncovered a case out of Georgia that involved companies based in India and 15 people indicted on phone scam counts, including seven who live in India and have not been arrested.
Because of the India connection and similarity in some of the names, a number of curious residents shared the U.S. Department of Justice’s press release about the phone scam investigation thinking it could be related to what was happening in the Lakelands.
Despite details being released — including an informant telling agents about cash-laden trash bags stashed in an attic and an unlocked safe at a local eatery with $200,000 authorities connected to an illicit money transfer business — some still think the two cases are connected.
If there is a connection between the two cases, however, spokesmen for the FBI and the Northern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Office don’t know about it and it has eluded any mention in court filings.
Instead, the investigations looked at different people, involved different agencies and are being prosecuted in different jurisdictions.
Among those arrested in September 2018 in connection with the phone scam investigation are Mohamed Kazim Momin, Mohmed Sozab Momin and Palak Kumar Patel. All three are residents of Georgia who have been under curfews, monitoring and the like since being released on bond.
The men do share last names with the two men arrested in Greenwood, Anis Momin and Mihirkumar Jayantibhai Patel. One of their names closely resembles that of Dairy Queen manager Mohmed Saif Momin, who goes by his middle name and is not facing charges in the investigation.
Beyond shared last names, however, there is no apparent link. And the names aren’t exactly uncommon.
Patel is among the most common last names in the world and the most common among those of Indian origin. According to genealogy web resource Forebears, nearly 5 million people have the surname Patel, including more than 200,000 in the United States.
Momin is a far less common name than Patel. Still, Forebears reports there are nearly 3,000 with that last name in the U.S.
Between South Carolina and Georgia, there have been about 50 federal cases in recent years that list a Momin as a party, according to PACER. The online gateway for federal court documents shows that number increases to more than 1,000 for those with the surname Patel.
While both cases involve suspects of Indian origin, the cases have notable differences:
Allegations — In the Georgia case, federal authorities accused five businesses and 15 people — including seven in India — of operating phone scams that extorted millions out of Americans. This led to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In the Greenwood case, the FBI said two men helped move money between the U.S. and India without being licensed. They are charged with operating an unlicensed money transfer business.
Investigating agencies — The Georgia case was investigated by the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration as part of a crackdown on phone scammers. The Greenwood case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of a broader probe into corruption, human trafficking, immigration fraud and criminal enterprise activity.
Prosecution — The Georgia case is being prosecuted by the Northern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Office. Prosecution for the Greenwood case is being handled by the South Carolina District U.S. Attorney’s Office.