Baltimore Woman Pleads Guilty in Decades -Long Scheme to Steal Identity Information and Cash Stolen Checks

April 3, 2009

Baltimore, Maryland - Tara Wagner, age 38, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and possession of stolen mail in connection with an identity theft scheme used to cash over $400,000 in stolen checks during just one year of the decades-long scheme, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

According to her plea agreement, from the early 1980s until 2008, Wagner’s coconspirators, including Maurice Racks, Joseph Lawrence and Loquann Johnson, targeted neighborhoods with outdoor mail boxes to obtain thousands of pieces of stolen mail, including identity information, checks and credit cards. They would approach an outdoor mail box with advertising circulars that they would place into the receptacle while simultaneously taking out mail.

Once the mail was stolen, Racks, Lawrence and Johnson would take photos of themselves and others, including Wagner. In the early years of the scheme, they used a photograph-taking machine that was stolen from a Motor Vehicles Administration office by an associate. They created thousands of fraudulent identifications including social security cards, identifications from federal and state agencies and driver’s licenses. Racks, Lawrence and Johnson called check issuing companies posing as legitimate check cashing establishments and requested social security numbers for the rightful payees of the checks that they had stolen, sometimes using Wagner’s telephone. They also cut telephone lines of residences from which they had stolen mail to prevent a fraud loss or check verification call.

After an identification card was made, Racks and his associates would test the individual for whom the fraudulent identification was made to make certain that he/she was familiar with the rightful payee’s information in order to avoid detection. To ensure the impersonation was successful, the co-conspirators would use costumes, including medical scrubs, wheelchairs, canes, suits, hats and sunglasses. If the check was a higher dollar amount, the presenter might wear a suit. After use, the costumes were discarded to avoid detection. The co-conspirators preferred to cash the stolen checks at check cashing establishments that did not take a photograph of the check presenter. In the early years of this scheme, these establishments were plentiful and Wagner and her associates cashed thousands of checks with ease. As technology improved, Wagner and others began to target more grocery stores and liquor stores. Wagner, Racks, Lawrence, Johnson, and dozens of other individuals had identification documents created with their photos but with another individual’s identifying information, which they then had to memorize. To make the memorization process easier, the co-conspirators would often use a variation of their own dates of birth on the fraudulent identifications.

At the time of her arrest on May 2, 2008, law enforcement recovered from a motel room that Wagner shared with Lawrence 11 stolen checks sent by institutions including the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, Child Support Enforcement Administration, the Department of the U.S. Treasury, and the Comptroller of Maryland; a FedEx Kinko’s copy card; photocopies of identification cards from the State of Maryland, Baltimore City Department of Social Services, Baltimore City Community College, Security Guard Certification, MVA, and the Social Security Administration; supplies to create false identification cards, including glue sticks, passport size photos of individuals including Racks, a razor blade, colored pencils, laminating paper and a typewriter; and more than 30 stolen Netflix DVD’s.

Over the course of the scheme, Wagner and her coconspirators cashed dozens of checks of $5,000 or more, and hundreds of checks of $1,500 or more. Wagner is responsible for at least $400,000 in loss based on her role in the conspiracy.

Wagner faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the conspiracy, a mandatory minimum of two years consecutive to any other term of imprisonment for aggravated identity theft, and five years for possession of stolen mail. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has scheduled sentencing for June 5, 2009 at 11:00 a.m.

Maurice Racks, age 54, and Joseph Lawrence, age 44, both of Baltimore, have also pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced on April 10, 2009 and April 14, 2009, respectively. Loquann Johnson, age 53, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and aggravated identity theft and was sentenced on January 23, 2009 to 134 months in prison.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Social Security Administration - Office of Inspector General and the Baltimore County Police Economic Crimes Unit for their investigative work. Mr. Rosenstein commended Assistant United States Attorney Solette A. Magnelli, who is prosecuting the case.



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