News and Press Releases

News and Press Releases

Bank employee pleads guilty to role in large, multi-state identity theft ring

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 6, 2012


MINNEAPOLIS—Earlier today in federal court in St. Paul, a 25-year-old Ham Lake woman pleaded guilty to stealing personal information from customers at the bank where she worked and then facilitating the use of that information to create counterfeit checks that were passed at retail stores and banks. Brianna Marie Blegen pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Blegen, who was charged on May 22, 2012, entered her plea before United States District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson.

From March through October of 2009, Blegen, a bank teller, was part of a large-scale identity theft ring responsible for stealing approximately $2 million from financial institutions and retail businesses in no fewer than 14 states. In her plea agreement, Blegen admitted that she provided her co-conspirators with bank customer information, including names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and account numbers. The co-conspirators then used the stolen information to create counterfeit checks and fraudulent identification documents that were ultimately passed at banks and stores for cash. In addition, Blegen admitted that she cashed counterfeit payroll checks, using the cash for her personal benefit as well as the benefit of her co-conspirators. As a result of her conduct, Blegen admitted responsibility for the illegal withdrawal of approximately $39,700 from customers’ accounts.

Blegen is the latest individual to plead guilty to a role in this multi-state identity theft ring. Twelve of her co-conspirators have already entered guilty pleas: On May 30, 2012, Kevin Terrell Martin pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. 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. 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 one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Patricia Grace Pnewski pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Another dozen co-conspirators were charged on January 19, 2012, in a 39-count, superseding indictment that alleged conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Those twelve defendants have since pleaded not guilty to the charges and are awaiting trial, currently scheduled for August 20, 2012.

For her crimes, Blegen faces 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 her sentence at a future hearing, not yet scheduled.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen B. Schommer.

The Financial Crimes Task Force was established pursuant to state law and is comprised of local, state, and federal law enforcement investigators, who are dedicated to combating the growing problem of cross-jurisdictional financial crimes. The task force, which is 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 Investigation Division also urges citizens to review the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft, which can be found at http://www.irs.gov.

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