KYLE OCKER Editor, Ottumwa Courier
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Three local woman have been sentenced following their guilty pleas to federal criminal charges connected with an international fraud scheme.
Marilyn Sterk, of Otley; Jennifer Sterk, of Pella; and Teresa Sterk Vanbaale, of Knoxville, Iowa, were arrested and charged in May 2020. Marilyn Sterk pled guilty to two counts, money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Jennifer Sterk and Vanbaale each pled guilty to one count, mail/wire fraud.
After reaching plea agreements last year, the women were sentenced Wednesday.
Marilyn Sterk was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. Jennifer Sterk and Vanbaale were sentenced to three years probation, with the first six months served under home confinement. They were also ordered to complete 40 hours of community service.
The three women and their co-defendants will share in payment of $4.3 million in restitution. Ankur Khemani, a citizen of India living in Maryland at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to serve 6 years and 3 months in federal prison in September. He will face deportation following his sentence.
The other co-defendant, Gaurav Bhasin, of Maryland, is still awaiting sentencing following his plea agreement.
Authorities say the defendants operated a bogus computer technical support company. Victims would obtain a toll-free number for the phony service through a pop-up advertisement or internet search. The calls were routed through a call center in India that would perpetuate the scam by falsely telling the victims their computers had viruses and conducting phony work to pretend to repair the computer. Victims were billed between $300 and $1,500 for the bogus work.
The grand jury findings say the scheme began in 2014 and lasted through November 2018. According to court documents, investigators said the local women were recruited and tasked with setting up fake technical support companies, several registered in Iowa. They collected a commission between 5% and 10% on each transaction.
At the time of their arrest, Attorney Guy Cook said the women were lured by the India company to provide banking assistance, but the women weren’t involved in selling any computer programs or services.