News and Press Releases

News and Press Releases

Four more individuals plead guilty to roles in large, multi-state identity theft ring

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 1, 2012


MINNEAPOLIS—Earlier today in federal court in St. Paul, four Twin Cities-area residents pleaded guilty to stealing personal information from hundreds of people and using it to create fake identification documents and counterfeit checks that were then passed at retail stores to purchase expensive merchandise that was subsequently returned to the stores for cash. The counterfeit checks were also passed at various banks where co-conspirators deposited the checks into the accounts of unsuspecting victims and then withdrew money from those same accounts.

Donyea Terrell Collins, age 26, of Richfield; Trey Jeremiah Powell, age 18, of Brooklyn Park; Elston Edwards Sharps, age 46, of Minneapolis; and Vinicia Andrell Williamson, age 27, also of Minneapolis, specifically pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. The pleas were entered before United States District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson.

Williamson was charged on July 27, 2012, while the other three were indicted on December 5, 2011.
In their plea agreements, these four individuals admitted being part of a large-scale identity theft ring responsible for the theft of approximately $2 million from financial institutions in no fewer than 14 states. For his part, Collins admitted stealing personal information from his place of employment and providing it to his co-conspirators, who then used it to create counterfeit checks and fake IDs. Collins was responsible for at least $58,000 in fraudulent transactions involving counterfeit checks.

In his plea agreement, Trey Powell admitted recruiting individuals to conduct fraudulent financial transactions and providing them with counterfeit and stolen checks to complete those transactions. Powell was responsible for at least $70,000 in fraudulent transactions involving counterfeit checks.
In his plea agreement, Sharps admitted accessing the bank accounts of victims by using stolen identification information. He also deposited a fraudulent check and opened a fraudulent bank account that was used by his co-conspirators to commit additional fraud. Sharps was responsible for at least $43,000 being fraudulently withdrawn or attempted to be withdrawn from the bank accounts of victims of this scam.

In her plea agreement, Williamson admitted that she, too, accessed the bank accounts of victims of this scheme by using stolen identification information. Williamson also admitted responsibility for at least $23,761 being fraudulently withdrawn or attempted to be withdrawn from the bank accounts of victims.

These four defendants are the latest individuals to plead guilty and accept responsibility for their roles in this multi-state identity theft ring. Seventeen of their co-conspirators have already entered guilty pleas: On July 12, 2012, Cynthia Andrea Maxwell pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit 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 have all 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.

Change of plea hearings are scheduled for tomorrow in St. Paul for two more co-conspirators. Five other co-conspirators have pleaded not guilty to charges including bank fraud and aggravated identity theft and await trial. Their trial is currently scheduled for August 20, 2012.

For their crimes, the defendants face a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and for each count of bank fraud and a mandatory minimum consecutive penalty of two years in prison for aggravated identity theft. Judge Magnuson will determine their sentences at a future hearing, not yet scheduled.

These cases are 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 Investigations. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen B. Schommer and 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, 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 Investigations also urges citizens to review the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft, which can be found at http://www.irs.gov.

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