FLORIDA MAN SENTENCED TO 22 YEARS IN FEDERAL
PRISON FOR ROLE IN MULTI-STATE "FELONY LANE" SCHEME
David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that MICHAEL JOHNSON, 32, of Miami Gardens, Fla., was sentenced today by United States District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant in Hartford to 264 months of imprisonment, followed by five years of supervised release, for his role in a multi-state identity theft and bank fraud scheme that victimized more than 150 people. Judge Bryant found that JOHNSON and his co-conspirators were responsible for stealing, or attempting to steal, more than $2.5 million during the course of the scheme.
“This three-year bank fraud and identity theft scheme defrauded banks and victimized more than 150 people,” stated U.S. Attorney Fein. “This sentence will protect society from a career criminal and should serve as a warning to other would-be identity thieves. I commend the Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations and the West Hartford Police Department for their extensive and successful investigation into this nationwide scheme.”
According to court documents and statements made in court, from August 2007 to May 2010, JOHNSON and his co-conspirator, Jermaine Jones of West Palm Beach, Fla., schemed to defraud federally insured banks and credit unions in at least 10 states, including Connecticut. As part of the scheme, JOHNSON and Jones stole individuals’ identifications, checks, debit cards, and credit cards, usually by burglarizing the victims’ cars. The defendants targeted cars in parking lots at gymnasiums, parks, athletic fields, and other places where they believed women would leave purses unattended.
JOHNSON, Jones and others recruited women, typically with substance abuse problems, to cash forged checks at banks. A third co-conspirator, Sheikera Williams, of Aventura, Fla., filled out and provided the stolen checks, along with stolen identification and bank cards, to the “cashers.” Williams also provided cashers with wigs, hats, sunglasses, and other items to disguise their appearances and to prevent bank tellers from recognizing that the casher was not the legitimate account holder. The casher was provided with a rented car and was instructed to approach the bank via the farthest drive-through teller window, sometimes referred to as the “felony lane,” in order to prevent the bank teller from effectively comparing a photo identification with the casher.
The cashers negotiated checks at the victim banks and credit unions where the theft victims had accounts. Typically, Williams would provide a casher with one or more checks that she had made out to an individual on a stolen identification card. The check would be drawn on an account of a different victim and drawn from a bank other than the one the casher approached. If a transaction was approved, the casher would give the money to the defendants and receive a share of the funds.
Investigators have identified at least 158 individuals who were victimized during the course of this scheme. Most had their purses or wallets stolen from their parked cars and their identities used to access their bank accounts.
In a statement to the court, one victim wrote, “[I felt] violated, scared – it started with a smash and grab at our local dog park, my purse, wallet – everything gone. My car window smashed, purse stolen. Then six months later, my bank account was emptied....I had two young children with me when the car was broken into; they were shaking and crying. I was shaking and crying. And I’ll never forget the shock when I saw my checking account was emptied – not by me, but by someone using my driver’s license in New Jersey. You shouldn’t be afraid at a playground or a dog park...”
Banks have reimbursed individuals who were victimized during this scheme for the losses they suffered.
On November 17, 2011, a jury found JOHNSON and Jones guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, seven counts of bank fraud and seven counts of aggravated identity theft. During the three-week trial, prosecutors called 69 witnesses, including 23 identity theft victims, seven bank investigators and 20 state and law enforcement officers from across the nation.
On May 16, 2012, Jones was sentenced to 240 months of imprisonment.
Sheikera Williams has pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. She awaits sentencing.
This investigation was led by the United States Secret Service, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and the West Hartford Police Department, with the assistance of several local and state law enforcement agencies. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys David E. Novick and Paul H. McConnell.
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