Charges Filed Against Identity Theft Ring That Used Social Security Administration Database to Steal Benefit Payments from Elderly Beneficiaries
Federal criminal charges were filed today against four defendants in an identity theft ring that used personal information from the Social Security Administration’s computer system to steal tens of thousands of dollars in Social Security benefit payments and other money from elderly and disabled beneficiaries in the New York City area and across the country between January 2004 and February 2006. The charges were announced by ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, EDWARD J. RYAN, Regional Inspector General, Social Security Administration, and RICHARD A. BROWN, Queens County DistrictAttorney.
The defendants arrested in New York today will have their initial appearances this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann at the U.S. Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York.
According to the complaint unsealed today, the defendant RASHETA BUNTING was employed as a Teleservice Representative at the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) with access to the SSA’s database of personal information, including names, social security numbers, and bank account information, for Social Security beneficiaries throughout the United States.1 BUNTING used her access to beneficiaries’ information to change the bank accounts designated by beneficiaries for direct deposit of their Social Security benefit payments to bank accounts controlled by BUNTING and her co-conspirators SHERRELL FOOTMAN, RAHKEEM SALES, and VLADIMIR ANILUS. Once a benefit payment was deposited into one of the controlled accounts, the defendants would switch the bank account information in the database back to the beneficiary’s actual account in order to conceal the fraud. The process of altering and then restoring a victim’s actual bank account information would frequently be repeated several times as the defendants continued to divert the payments to accounts they controlled.
“The defendants preyed on elderly and disabled Social Security beneficiaries in order to line their own pockets,” stated United States Attorney MAUSKOPF. “The offense is all the more egregious because a federal employee with access to our citizens’ private financial information betrayed their trust.” Ms. MAUSKOPF thanked the U.S. Secret Service and the New York City Police Department for their assistance and stated that the investigation is continuing.
The scheme to defraud was uncovered when FOOTMAN and ANILUS were arrested by the NYPD after attempting to cash a check drawn on the account of one of the victims whose personal information BUNTING had accessed in the SSA’s computer database. The NYPD, in conjunction with the United States Secret Service, SSA, and the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, then executed a search warrant at the residence of FOOTMAN and SALES.
The defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, a 250,000 fine, and full restitution for the moneys they are responsible for stealing.
In announcing the unsealing of the complaint and arrests, SSA Regional Inspector General RYAN stated, “This investigation demonstrates the seriousness with which the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, responds to allegations of employee fraud and misuse of SSA confidential information. There is nothing more egregious than a colleague who has violated the sanctity and trust placed upon that individual as a member of the SSA community. The integrity of SSA employees is an integral part of our mission of protecting the programs and operations entrusted to us.”
Queens County District Attorney BROWN stated, “Identity theft is a serious and rapidly growing crime that not only wreaks havoc on the daily lives and credit rating of those whose identities have been stolen but also supports a wide range of illegal behavior, from financial fraud and money laundering to illegal immigration and terrorism. We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement colleagues at all levels of government to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who seek to commit financial crimes.”
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Bitkower.
The Defendants:RASHETA BUNTING
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