Federal Jury Finds Four Individuals Guilty For Their Roles In Large, Multi-state Identity Theft Ring
MINNEAPOLIS—Today in federal court, a trial jury found four men guilty of roles in a large, multi-state identity theft ring. Joel Delano Powell, Jr., age 46, of St. Louis Park; Desmon Desmond Burks, age 37, of Cottage Grove; and Frederick Adrianne Hamilton, age 55, and Norman Scott Allen, age 43, both of Minneapolis, were convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. In addition, Powell was convicted of seven counts of bank fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft. Burks was also convicted of two counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. Hamilton was convicted of two counts of bank fraud, and Allen was convicted of one count of bank fraud. The defendants were charged in a superseding indictment that was filed on January 19, 2012, and unsealed on January 20, 2012.
The evidence presented at trial proved that from 2006 through December of 2011, the defendants conspired with each other and unnamed individuals to defraud banks, bank customers, and businesses. Through their places of employment, some members of the theft ring stole the identification information of customers and others, providing it to co-conspirators who then used it to create false identification documents, such as driver’s licenses and identification cards, along with counterfeit checks. Identification information was stolen through other means as well, including mail theft, vehicle break-ins, and business burglaries. Some was even purchased from other criminals.
Following today’s verdict, U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said, “Over the past several years, this office has demonstrated that it will vigorously pursue those who commit financial fraud and identity theft. Again, through the successful prosecution of this case, we put would-be fraudsters on notice that such action will not be tolerated in Minnesota. Together with our investigative partners, we will find them and bring them to justice. Their victims—the hardworking, law-abiding citizens of this state—deserve no less.”
According to the superseding indictment, the fraudulent identification documents and the counterfeit checks were subsequently used by co-conspirators, named and unnamed, or those recruited by them, to purchase expensive items and gift cards at retail stores. Later, but often the same day, after the receipts had been altered, the items were returned for cash, which was divided among those involved in the criminal activity.
Adam P. Behnen, Postal Inspector in Charge of the Denver Division, which covers the Twin Cities, said after the conviction of these four defendants, “Criminals who would steal mail and use that information to commit crimes should take note of today's verdict. We are very pleased with this outcome and would like to thank our partners in this case: the United States Attorney's Office, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, and the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force. The Postal Inspection Service remains on watch to protect the nation's mail system from criminal misuse and will continue to aggressively investigate those individuals suspected of such crimes."
“Stealing a person’s identification information for financial gain causes undue hardships for the individual whose identity has been stolen,” added Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation, St. Paul Field Office. “Today’s verdict is a strong reminder that individuals committing identity theft will be held accountable for their criminal activities.”
The fraudulent information and documentation was also used to open bank accounts or access the existing bank accounts of others. As part of this scheme, co-conspirators deposited counterfeit checks into the accounts of unknowing individuals, only to withdraw funds from those same accounts a short time later. To avoid detection, co-conspirators only accessed each bank account a few times before moving on to their next victim.
For their crimes, the defendants face a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and a mandatory minimum consecutive penalty of two years in prison for identity theft. Judge Magnuson will determine their sentences at future hearings, not yet scheduled.
Twenty-four of the defendants’ co-conspirators have already entered guilty pleas and are also awaiting sentencing:
On August 3, 2012, Derek Charles Estelle, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
On August 2, 2012, Steven Lavell Maxwell and Joel Delano Powell, III, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
On August 1, 2012, Donyea Terrell Collins, Trey Jeremiah Powell, Elston Edwards Sharps, and Vinicia Andrell Williamson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
On July 12, 2012, Cynthia Andrea Maxwell pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit concealment money laundering.
On July 11, 2012, Kelly Jenelle Scott pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Robin Dawn Finger, Russell Raymond Royals, Brianna Marie Blegen, Kevin Terrell Martin, Melissa Jean Beaman, Majorie Marie Neely, Francis Emily Jones, Christeena Janell Barker, Jamie Hubert Branson, Darryl Alan Bryant, Jacqueline Cleveland, and Ginger Loucina Halliburton pleaded guilty to the same two charges.
On September 29, 2011, Lee Vang pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of aggravated identity theft.
On July 20, 2011, Brianna Marie Darwin pleaded guilty to the same two counts.
On February 6, 2012, Patricia Grace Pnewski pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
These cases resulted from an investigation conducted by the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations. They were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen B. Schommer. The trial was also prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle E. Jones.
The Financial Crimes Task Force was established pursuant to state law and is comprised of local, state, and federal law enforcement investigators dedicated to combating the growing problem of cross-jurisdictional financial crimes. The task force, overseen by an advisory board also created under state law, serves the entire District of Minnesota, presenting its cases to county or federal prosecutors, as appropriate.
The task force and the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office want to remind people to protect themselves from identity theft. For more information, visit http://www.stopfraud.gov/protect-identity.html.
The IRS-Criminal Investigations also urges citizens to review the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft, which can be found at http://www.irs.gov.