A Laguna Beach photographer pleaded guilty this month to felony mail fraud for conning law firms and other small businesses into paying more than $3.3 million for copy machine toner they didn’t order.
Federal prosecutors allege Mark Mushkin, owner of Mark Timothy Gallery, swindled 878 businesses in a scheme that lasted from January 2011 to June 2017.
Mushkin was arrested last year after at least three New York law firms called law enforcement to report fraudulent invoices they had received from a company called IT Tech Products. Authorities linked the fake business to Mushkin through a post office box in Costa Mesa.
In June 2014, a law firm received an invoice that itemized $1,676 in toner cartridges and $14 for shipping that the company hadn’t ordered. The firm paid that invoice and received a second one for $2,528 in September 2014 for six toner cartridges and shipping. At that point, the law firm learned they never received any toner from IT Tech Products and the cartridges they had received were free from the company that sold them the copy machine.
“Over more than five years, the defendant was unjustly enriched by money sent to him from businesses throughout the country under false pretenses,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
A U.S. postal service investigator wrote in the criminal complaint filed in New York federal court that Mushkin was able to keep the scheme up for years because when companies inquired about an invoice, he would either notify them that it was voided or just return the money.
The investigator linked Mushkinto the scheme through the California driver’s license number and vehicle insurance policy he used to apply for the post office box in Costa Mesa, according to the complaint.
Security camera footage from the post office showed Mushkin visiting the mailbox nine times in March and April 2011, the complaint alleges.
“Mr. Mushkin banked on each company’s belief the invoice received was from a legitimate vendor, not an alleged scammer,” U.S. Post Service Inspector in Charge Peter Rendina said in a statement. “What he didn’t bank on was the resolve of postal inspectors and the U.S. Attorney to uncover his greedy scheme and bring him to justice for his crimes against unsuspecting businesses.”
Mushkin is out of custody on a $25,000 bond, according to court records. He declined to comment on Wednesday when reached by phone. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 12.