Two leaders of Schenectady’s Guyanese religious and cultural community were convicted in federal court of defrauding the Bank of New York of $2.9 million over a seven-year period, using their Paige Street temple’s bank account at one point to launder the funds.
Kamla and Baldeo “Raj” Sahabir will be sentenced Dec. 10 in U.S. District Court of the Northern District in Utica, where they could face a maximum of 30 years in federal prison on the bank fraud charge and 20 years on the money-laundering charge.The married couple also could be subject to a fine of twice the value of the property involved, or nearly $6 million.
The Sahabirs operate America Seva International, a Hindu mandir, or temple, on Paige Street in Schenectady.
They opened the temple about six years ago, and Baldeo Sahabir is a priest there. The temple serves as a cultural center.
Kamla Sahabir was a member of the Schenectady city Planning Commission. She worked as a real estate agent and made an effort to attract Guyanese families from Queens to Schenectady during the time of the felony incidents.
A federal jury on Aug. 19 found the Sahabirs guilty of the felony counts after three hours of deliberations. Kamla Sahabir was found not guilty on several charges of aiding and abetting.
The Sahabirs’ attorney, E. Stewart Jones, said he plans an appeal and further motions directed at the verdict. A phone number to the Sahabir residence at 116 Willow Creek Ave. is no longer in service.
The government’s case centered on testimony presented by Lal Singh, a vice president of the redemption department at the Bank of New York.
The department had access to unclaimed funds that would later be turned over to the state. Singh pleaded guilty Dec. 12, 2008, to bank fraud and cooperated with authorities in their prosecution of the Sahabirs.
According to court documents, Singh testified that in December 2000 he met with both Baldeo and Kamla Sahabir.
At that meeting, Singh agreed to wire money from the redemption accounts at the Bank of New York to a bank account provided by Baldeo Sahabir with JP Morgan Chase.
Singh testified that between Dec. 13, 2000, and April 2, 2003, he wired approximately $521,000 to the bank account.
Baldeo Sahabir would give Singh his cut of the proceeds by driving to meet Singh in various locations in Queens. Kamla Sahabir would often be present at the meetings, according to court records.
When JP Morgan Chase closed the account because of suspicious activity in 2003, Singh testified he met with the Sahabirs and received a new bank account, this one in the name of America Seva International, the Schenectady-based temple. The Sahabirs were living in Schenectady by that time.
Between July 2003 and May 2007, Singh testified he sent 282 wire transfers to the Seva account, totaling $2.4 million. Singh received $1 million of this amount in checks signed by the Sahabirs under the Seva account.
A government witness testified at the trial that 92 percent of the money going into the Seva account was through illegal transfers coming from Singh.
The Sahabirs continued to drive to Queens to give Singh his cut of the money, according to court testimony.
According to court documents, the Sahabirs never declared the income from Singh’s wire transfers on any tax documents.
Their joint tax returns for 2000-03 declared a total of $147,010 in income and their income tax forms for 2004-07 showed $197,634 in income. During this period, they collected nearly $3 million from Singh.