Resident from China indicted for laundering millions through Big Island properties

Gavel on sounding block
Gavel on sounding block(Source: Gray News)
Published: Jun. 14, 2021 at 8:16 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 8:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A resident from China was indicted for laundering millions of fraud proceeds using properties on Hawaii Island.

A federal grand jury charged Yao Zhungjun of Beijing with conspiracy to commit money laundering as part of multiple schemes to defraud J.R. Simplot Company, an entity operating out of China.

According to the indictment, the 50-year-old, who was a former manager at Simplot, conspired with Christopher Claypool, who was a general manager at a grass seed and turfgrass company in Washington, to collect millions of dollars in kickbacks by artificially inflating seed prices.

An attorney said the two were able to collect millions from just one Chinese grass seed distributor on more than $10 million in rebates Simplot paid to the company.

The indictment also alleged that Yao and Claypool conspired to defraud Simplot directly.

Officials said Claypool arranged for seller commissions purportedly owed to a European partner to be paid to Yao through a Citibank Hong Kong account in Yao’s wife’s name. Claypool directed the payment of more than $7.3 million in fraudulent commissions to this account from 2008 through 2014.

Under the indictment, Yao and Claypool also routed the proceeds of these schemes through at least six pieces of real estate on Hawaii Island, roughly between March 2010 and June 2016.

The indictment also stated Yao caused more than 55 wires, totaling more than $11.6 million, to be sent from accounts he controlled in Hong Kong to accounts at First Hawaiian Bank for use in the acquisition and development of six parcels under Claypool’s control.

Officials said from 2010 through October 2018, Claypool developed and then sold those properties for more than $11.4 million and later transferred the proceeds to investments accounts at brokerage firm Edward Jones.

In a separate charge, Claypool pleaded guilty to this conspiracy in the District of Oregon.

Meanwhile, Yao remains at large.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, a fine of more than $20 million, and three years’ supervised release.

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