A Gilbert father and his two sons are facing federal charges following their arrests involving a $10 million money order scheme authorities say stemmed from the Mama Mia Panaderia and Market in Chandler.
Gjergj Kol Mihilli, 60, of Gilbert, and his two sons, Nikolas George Mihilli, 35, and Nino Joseph Mihilli, 31, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy, bank fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft charges on Wednesday following a 46-count indictment by a federal grand jury on Oct. 23, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The 46-count indictment alleges the trio operated a money order fraud scheme from the Mama Mia Panaderia and Market, 731 S. Arizona Ave., which is owned by Gjergj Mihilli. In addition to food sales, the store offered a variety of financial transaction services to customers, including money order sales.
According to the indictment, Gjergj Mihilli contracted with Merchants Bank of California in order for the store to sell the bank’s Unigram money orders. The store also maintained two business accounts with Wells Fargo Bank. Beginning around May 2010, the trio is alleged to have conspired to operate a scheme in which the store issued thousands of false, worthless money orders, utilizing fictitious names. These false money orders were then deposited into the Wells Fargo business accounts, thus artificially inflating the account balances, so that funds were made available to pay Merchants Bank for issuing the money orders, according to ICE.
In order to execute the scheme, the defendants were required to continually issue and deposit false money orders. The indictment alleges that the defendants issued and deposited more than 10,000 false money orders totaling approximately $10 million. A portion of those funds were unlawfully withdrawn by the defendants for their personal and business use.
A woman who answered the phone at the market on Friday said they had no comment about the charges.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix.
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