NORTH ADAMS — A raid of an apartment above a nondescript smoke shop in Adams on Monday uncovered the inner workings of a massive phone scam, prosecutors say.

Inside, authorities found tens of thousands of dollars in cash, computers and a notebook containing a script used for defrauding people over the phone.

Two cousins inside the apartment — Jitendra Chaudhari, 27, of Williamstown, and Ajaykumar Chaudhari, 24, of Pownal, Vt. — were arrested in the scam, which, prosecutors say, spanned five states and netted about $300,000.

Both men were arraigned Wednesday in Northern Berkshire District Court and ordered held on $100,000 bail.

Monday's raid at an apartment above the Express Smoke & Vape Shop on Columbia Street was the culmination of a three-month investigation.

"We don't know who these people are," Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Kyle Christensen said at Wednesday's hearing.

In addition to cash and computer equipment, authorities found a series of driver's licenses from different states and at least six Republic of India passports, many of which contained the same photographs but different biographical information.

Christensen requested $500,000 bail in both cases, citing the unknown financial extent of their crimes and foreign ties. He said police were having trouble obtaining records for the defendants because neither had a Social Security number to provide.

"They have substantial international and domestic ties, but outside of the jurisdiction of Massachusetts," Christensen said. "They have access to a substantial amount of cash resources that were illegally obtained from other victims around the country. And because of the number of passports and driver's licenses, I believe that they are likely able to obtain other fraudulent identification to either leave the jurisdiction or leave the country and thereby avoid prosecution."

Other items found during the raid included several boxes containing cash, including one with $42,000 and another unopened box, addressed to Columbia Street in Adams, which held $7,500. All of those items were consistent with victim descriptions.

There also were three computers with headsets, a notebook containing the script and a de facto ledger of money received from various victims, prosecutors said.

Probable cause for Monday's raid was aided by police intercepting boxes containing $49,000 and $13,000 at a FedEx distribution center in Pittsfield.

Christensen said victims have been discovered in Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Oklahoma, Missouri and New Jersey.

To steal money, Christensen said that Jitendra Chaudhari and Ajaykumar Chaudhari would tell their victims that "there were outstanding charges, potential charges, claims that the IRS would pursue them for financial penalties, claims that the Social Security Administration would pursue them for penalties, and even one case where the victim was given information about the coronavirus to instill fear."

Attorney Michelle Mechta was appointed to defend Jitendra Chaudhari, while attorney Glenn Keiderling was appointed to represent Ajaykumar Chaudhari. Both requested release on personal recognizance, arguing that their clients were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Neither man, both attorneys argued, was named on a 33-page police report until the very end, when the raid took place. Mechta also claimed that her client came to the U.S. just three months ago, had started immigration paperwork and was living with his uncle in Williamstown. She said Jitendra Chaudhari doesn't speak or understand English well enough to participate in a phone scam.

"There's no reason to believe that he is going to flee," Mechta said. "He came here for a reason. He came to this country to get meaningful work, to work for his uncle's motel in Williamstown.

"He came here to start a new life for himself, not to be part of something that he doesn't even understand. He doesn't understand IRS and Social Security. He cannot participate meaningfully in any way, shape or form."

Keiderling noted what he viewed as a lack of probable cause in arresting his client. He said the police conducted surveillance of an address on Prospect Street in Adams for 15 days, and there was no mention of Ajaykumar Chaudhari coming or going. Keiderling said his client's photo and name weren't found on any of the IDs taken during the raid.

Jitendra Chaudhari and Ajaykumar Chaudhari are facing charges of larceny by false pretenses over $1,200, larceny from a person over the age of 65 and conspiracy.

Judge Paul M. Vrabel ordered both to surrender their passports. Their next hearing is scheduled for July 17.

The investigation is ongoing, and additional arrests might be coming, according to the Berkshire DA's office.

Mike Walsh can be reached at