OAKLAND – Shelbee Szeto pleaded guilty today to wire fraud, money laundering, and a relate tax charge in a scheme to defraud her former employer out of more than five million dollars, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Pearson. The guilty plea was accepted by the Honorable Haywood S. Gilliam Jr., United States District Judge.
According to the plea agreement, Szeto, 30, of Fremont, was employed by HP, Inc. (HP) as an executive assistant and finance planning manager from approximately August 2017 until June of 2021. In these roles, Szeto was responsible for making payments to HP vendors and was issued multiple HP commercial credits cards to make the payments on HP’s behalf. Rather than make payments in accordance with the company’s policies, Szeto devised a fraudulent scheme whereby she sent approximately $4.8 million in unauthorized payments from her HP commercial credit cards to several Square, PayPal, and Stripe merchant accounts under her control.
The plea agreement provides several details of the scheme. For example, the agreement describes how, as part of her employment with HP, Szeto was issued multiple American Express commercial credit cards that were intended only for business expenses. Szeto then set up bogus merchant accounts with PayPal, Stripe, and Square that she maintained under her control, but represented were for legitimate vendors. Szeto then unlawfully sent payments from the credit cards to the bogus accounts. To further her plan, Szeto uploaded falsified invoices to HP’s internal system and falsely represented to HP that the payments were made to legitimate vendors. She also made false representations to Square that the payments sent from the credit cards were sent to HP’s approved vendors for legitimate business transactions and falsely represented to her bank that the money from HP was for legitimate business transactions.
According to the plea agreement, Szeto caused at least $4.8 million to be fraudulently from HP accounts to accounts she controlled and attempted to steal an additional approximately $330,000 from HP. Szeto acknowledged that the total loss and attempted loss from her scheme was at least $5.2 million.
Furthermore, the plea agreement contains a list of items for which Szeto has forfeited her interest. The list includes items such as the proceeds of a First Republic Bank account; a 2020 Tesla sedan; a 2021 Porsche sport utility vehicle; several bags and purses from Dior, Gucci, Hermes, and Chanel; and a collection of jewelry and timepieces including necklaces, rings, pendants, and watches from Rolex, Bulgari, Audemars Pignet, and Cartier. The list has 161 line items—some lines of which include multiple items such as “7 necklaces with clover-shaped design,” “6 gold necklaces with pendants,” and “26 pairs of earrings.”
On February 11, 2022, the Office of the United States Attorney filed an Information charging Szeto with two counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; two counts of money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957; and one count of filing a false tax return, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1). According to today’s plea agreement, Szeto pleaded guilty to all five counts.
The maximum statutory sentence for the wire fraud counts is a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release, per count. The maximum statutory sentence for money laundering counts is ten years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release per count. The maximum statutory sentence for the false tax return charge is three years in prison, a fine of up to $100,000, and one year of supervised release. However, any sentence following a conviction would be imposed by a court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Judge Gilliam scheduled Szeto’s sentencing for July 20, 2022.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Priedeman is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Leeya Kekona. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the IRS-CI.