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Darien Man Indicted In Multimillion-Dollar Scheme To Defraud USDA

A 59 year-old Darien man has been charged in a multi-million dollar scheme involving the USDA and both U.S. and foreign banks.
A 59 year-old Darien man has been charged in a multi-million dollar scheme involving the USDA and both U.S. and foreign banks. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

DARIEN, Conn. – A Darien man was indicted on fraud and money laundering charges after authorities said he took part in a scheme to defraud banks and the U.S. Department of Agriculture out of millions of dollars.

Pablo Calderon, 59, of Darien was charged along with Brett C. Lillemoe, 45, and Sarah Zirbes, 39, of Minneapolis.

Each was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, multiple counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud, and one count of money laundering.

Calderon was also charged with one count of making a false statement to federal law enforcement. The conspiracy and wire fraud charges carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison; the bank fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years; the money laundering carries a maximum sentence of 10 years; and the false statement carries a maximum sentence of five years.

According to the office of Deirdre Daly, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, the three took advantage of a program run by the USDA, which resulted in foreign banks defaulting on more than $10 million in loans, for which the USDA had to pay out guarantees.

The program, the Export Credit Guarantee Program, is designed to encourage financing of commercial exports of U.S. agricultural products. The program extends credit issued by U.S. financial institutions to foreign banks. As part of the program, the Commodity Credit Corporation, an agency of the USDA, enters into payment guarantees.

According to the indictment, between September 2007 and January 2012, Calderon, Lillemoe, Zirbes and others devised and executed a scheme to defraud U.S. banks, including Deutsche Bank and Colorado-based CoBank, by presenting false and altered shipping documents in connection with securing funding on loans guaranteed by the Export Credit Guarantee Program.

The three established multiple entities with separate names to obtain a greater share of guarantees from the program, and used multiple bank accounts in the names of these fake entities to create the appearance that they were real, according to the indictment. They paid for or otherwise acquired shipping documents for the shipment of agricultural products that they did not physically ship, authorities said.

Lillemoe entered into agreements with and obtained letters of credit from foreign banks, including International Industrial Bank in Russia. The three also altered copies of shipping documents, and prepare and executed documents called “commercial invoices” that claimed to represent sales of agricultural commodities between entities they controlled.

The three used these fraudulent documents to obtain large amounts of capital from U.S. banks and provided the funds to the foreign banks in exchange for a percentage fee for themselves, authorities said. Although the foreign banks were required to repay their funds to the U.S. banks, in many cases they failed to do so. Authorities said Lillemoe, Calderon and Zirbes and their entities still retained millions of dollars in fees for themselves.

A federal grand jury returned the 23-count indictment on Feb. 20. Zirbes was arraigned in Bridgeport on March 6, Lillemoe on March 13, and Calderon on March 16. All three pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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