NASHUA, NH – Prosecutors say a Rivier University student came up with a novel way to pay for college when he set up a Ponzi scheme centered on the rights to an Indian movie.
Now, Shiva Chandan Reddy Thudi, 27, is likely going to be deported after he pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud for stealing more than $160,000 from fellow students who invested in his movie distribution company.
“I am sorry for everybody for the trouble I caused,” Thudi said Wednesday during his sentencing hearing held via video conference.
According to court records, Thudi created a shell company and told fellow Indian students that he had exclusive rights to distribute the Telugu language supernatural thriller “Bethaludu” in the United States. The film was originally released in the Tamil language under the title “Saithan” which means Satan.
Thudi, in fact, did not have the rights to the movie, and instead used the investments his friends made for his own benefit, according to court records. He also used some later investments from victims to payout small sums to the earlier investors in a classic Ponzi-scheme maneuver, according to court records.
Thudi’s attorney, Behzad Mirhashem, wrote in a sentencing memo that Thudi only turned to crime because he needed to pay his $20,000 a year tuition bill. Thudi started at Nashua’s Rivier in 2013, studying for a master’s degree in computer science. Thudi had grown up in such a poor family that as a child his parents sent him off to be raised by an aunt and uncle, Mirhashem wrote.
Once in the United States, Thudi scrambled to afford living and studying in Nashua. He also tried to support his family back home, sending them money he took from the investors in his scam company, according to Mirhashem. What appeared as a Ponzi-scheme to prosecutors are the actions of a young man trying to keep up, his attorney said.
“There were elements here of a frenzied attempt to keep earlier investors quiet by paying them off with money from later ones. And elements as well of a young immigrant to the United States foolishly attempting to present himself as a financial success to his family back home,” Mirhashem wrote.
The movie scheme is not the only criminal activity Thudi allegedly engaged in, however, according to Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Hunter’s sentencing memo. Thudi spent years scamming Indian students at Rivier, preying on their fears about immigration, and using the religious beliefs to manipulate them, according to Hunter.
“Thudi created fake text and email messages, and fake letters, to impersonate police and immigration officers and Rivier University officials, “ Hunter wrote. “Thudi used these fake accounts to extract money from his victims claiming it was needed to attain immigration documents and other related expenses. Thudi also preyed on his victims’ religious beliefs by again impersonating a law enforcement officer to convince his victims that their lives were being affected by ‘black magic’ and that they needed to give money to Thudi so that he could pass it along to pay for prayer services to lift the curse.”
These scams allegedly netted Thudi more than $300,000 over four years, according to Hunter. He is not being charged for these alleged scams as Hunter said during Wednesday’s video conference that these allegations would be difficult to prove at trial.
Thudi was first interviewed by FBI agents in April of 2019, after he had left Rivier and moved to Texas. According to Hunter, after the meeting with the FBI, Thudi continued with the movie distribution scam, taking $11,000 from a Texas resident.
Though his sentence of 12 months and a day is set to end in August thanks to time served and good time he’ll receive, Thudi isn’t going anywhere. Once his federal sentence is complete, Thudi will be detained for an indefinite period of time by Immigration and Customs Enforcement while his deportation case is processed.
Thudi apologized to his victims, his parents, and the United States during his sentencing hearing. But Judge Paul Barbadoro said apologies aren’t enough. He needs to make amends to the victims and follow through on paying $100,000 in restitution.
“Mr. Thudi, apologies are good and that starts the process, but if you’re serious about this it doesn’t end the process,” Barbadoro said. “When you cheat them like you did it undermines their confidence. It harms them even beyond the money that you take from them.”