SEATTLE WOMAN PLEADS GUILTY IN BANK FRAUD AND ID THEFT CASES
SHIMITRA RUSHONDA ELLIS, 29, of Seattle, pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to twenty counts of Bank Fraud and four counts of Fraudulent Use of Another Person's Means of Identification. Under the terms of the plea agreement, ELLIS faces at least four years in prison if Chief Judge Robert S. Lasnik accepts the agreement. Sentencing is scheduled for May 13, 2005, at 9:30.
An extensive investigation revealed that ELLIS recruited people who committed bank fraud by cashing multiple checks drawn on accounts that had been closed. According to the plea agreement, ELLIS would steal identities and then open bank accounts in a variety of names. Then she would write checks to other members of the ring. ELLIS and her criminal cohorts would cash these worthless checks at other banks using accounts that ELLIS and her associates had opened. They would then return most of the ill gotten cash to ELLIS. The checks would later be returned to the bank that had cashed them with the notation that the account had been closed for fraudulent activity. Using this scheme, ELLIS defrauded banks of nearly $165,000.
Victims' identities were stolen in a variety of ways. One woman had her identity stolen after her purse was taken. Victims whose identities were stolen struggled to restore their credit histories – one victim even had to change her name to try to repair the damage. Multiple banks were defrauded including U.S. Bank, Qualstar Credit Union, Columbia State Bank, and Wells Fargo Bank. More than 20 people have entered guilty pleas as part of this investigation.
The case was investigated by the FBI, King County Sheriff's Office, and the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Karyn Johnson prosecuted the case.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington, at (206) 553-4110.