Duo indicted in $8.5M nationwide Airbnb, Vrbo scam
Shray Goel, Shaunik Raheja accused of double-booking properties on short-term rental sites
Two men have been indicted by a federal grand jury for orchestrating a nationwide, multimillion-dollar, double-booking scheme through online property rental platforms.
Shray Goel, 35, of Miami and Shaunik Raheja, 34, of Denver, are accused of raking in more than $8.5 million by employing misleading property listings and fraudulent reservation cancellations on Airbnb and Vrbo, according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The charges also include accusations of racial discrimination against people of color.
Both are slated for arraignment in the United States District Court in Los Angeles in the coming weeks.
Goel and Raheja are accused of operating a short-term property rental business, using various names, including Abbot Pacific LLC. The operation spanned nearly 100 properties across 10 states, in cities such as Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, among others.
The alleged scam involved double-booking properties on Airbnb and Vrbo, fabricating last-minute excuses, like plumbing issues, to cancel reservations, and orchestrating secret bidding wars for properties.
The indictment claims that racial prejudices played a role in decision-making, accusing Goel and Raheja of discriminating against potential renters based on their race. The discriminatory practice reportedly caused financial losses for Black guests as their reservations were selectively canceled.
The indictment further reveals the use of fake host names, other people’s identities, and fake addresses to list properties. Goel and Raheja allegedly posted fabricated positive reviews and evaded local regulations governing short-term rentals. Their efforts to prevent negative reviews included discrediting them and hiding them from prospective guests.
The charges include conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 13 counts of wire fraud. Goel faces additional charges of aggravated identity theft. If convicted, the defendants could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for each conspiracy and wire fraud charge, with an additional two-year mandatory consecutive sentence for aggravated identity theft.
U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said that the scheme victimized thousands of consumers and families, some of whom faced discrimination based on race.