Second Baltimore Man Pleads Guilty In Decades - Long Scheme To Steal Identity Information And Cash Stolen Checks

Conspirators Stole Thousands of Pieces of Residential Mail - Inserting Advertising Circulars Into the Mail Box While Simultaneously Removing the Mail

October 3, 2008

Baltimore, Maryland - Joseph Lawrence, age 44, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and possession of stolen mail in connection with a decades-long identity theft scheme, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

According to his plea agreement, from the early 1980s until 2008, Lawrence, Maurice Racks and their associates targeted neighborhoods with outdoor mail boxes, heavily canvassing those areas at the beginning of each month and during tax refund season, to obtain thousands of pieces of stolen mail, including identity information, checks and credit cards. They would place advertising circulars in an outdoor mail box while simultaneously taking out mail.

Once the mail was stolen, Lawrence, Racks and others would take photos of themselves and others. They created thousands of fraudulent identifications including social security cards, identifications from federal and state agencies and driver’s licenses. They 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. 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, Lawrence, Racks and their 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 Lawrence and his associates cashed thousands of checks with ease. As technology improved, the conspirators began to target more grocery stores and liquor stores.

At the time of his arrest on May 2, 2008, law enforcement recovered from a motel room Lawrence shared with a co-conspirator 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, Lawrence and his co-conspirators cashed dozens of checks of $5,000 or more, and hundreds of checks of $1,500 or more. Lawrence is responsible for at least $400,000 in loss based on his participation in the scheme in just the past year.

Lawrence 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 in prison for possession of stolen mail. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has scheduled sentencing for January 13, 2009 at 9:00 a.m.

Maurice Racks, age 53, of Baltimore, previously pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 19, 2008 at 9:30 a.m.

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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