News and Press Releases

News and Press Releases

14-State Identity Theft Ring Broken Up; Individuals Charged

January 20, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS—A federal superseding indictment unsealed today charges 12 people in
connection with a identity-theft ring that is allegedly responsible for the theft of more than $2
million from financial institutions and retail businesses in no fewer than 14 states. The original
indictment filed in this case on December 5, 2011, charged Steven Lavell Maxwell alone with a
single count of aggravated identity theft, a charge to which he pleaded not guilty on December
14, 2011. The superseding indictment adds conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to
commit money laundering to Maxwell’s list of charges. It also adds 11 co-conspirators and
outlines a complex plot to defraud banks and retail businesses, primarily in the Midwest.

The superseding indictment, originally filed on January 19, 2012, was unsealed following
the initial appearances in federal court of all of the newly named defendants: Norman Scott
Allen, age 42, Frederick Adrianne Hamilton, age 56, Joel Delano Powell, III, age 19, and
Elston Edwards Sharp, age 46, all of Minneapolis; Desmon Desmond Burks, age 36, and Robin
Dawn Finger, age 43, both of St. Paul; Russell Raymond Royals, age 59, of Cottage Grove; Joel
Delano Powell, Jr., age 46, of St. Louis Park; Donyea Terrell Collins, age 26, of Richfield;
Derek Charles Estelle, age 24, of Stillwater; and Trey Jeremiah Powell, age 18, of Brooklyn
Park. Like Maxwell, age 43, of Minneapolis, these 11 individuals were charged with one count
of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. With the exception of Hamilton, the newly named
defendants were also charged with one count of aggravated identity theft.

In addition, Royals, Burks, Hamilton, and Allen were charged with two counts of bank
fraud; Joel Delano Powell, Jr., was charged with seven counts of bank fraud; Trey Jeremiah
Powell and Joel Delano Powell, III, were charged with four counts of bank fraud; Sharps was
charged with one count of bank fraud; Royals, Burks, and Joel Delano Powell, III, were charged with a second count of aggravated identity theft; and Joel Delano Powell, Jr., was
charged with four more counts of aggravated identity theft.

The superseding indictment alleges that from 2006 through December of 2011, the
defendants conspired with each other and unnamed individuals to defraud banks, bank
customers, and businesses. Through their places of employment, some members of the theft
ring purportedly stole the identification information of other people, providing it to coconspirators
who then used it to create false identification documents, such as driver’s license
and identification cards, along with counterfeit checks. Identification information was allegedly
stolen through other means as well, including mail theft, vehicle break-ins, and business
burglaries. Some was even reportedly purchased from other criminals.

According to the superseding indictment, the fraudulent identification documents and the
counterfeit checks were subsequently used by co-conspirators, named and unnamed, or those
recruited by them, to purchase expensive items and gift cards at retail stores. Later, but often
that same day, after the receipts had been altered, the items were allegedly returned for cash,
which was divided among those involved in the criminal activity.

The fraudulent information and documentation was also reportedly used to open bank
accounts or access the existing bank accounts of others. As part of this scheme, co-conspirators
purportedly deposited counterfeit checks into the accounts of unknowing individuals, only to
withdraw funds from those same accounts a short time later. To avoid detection, coconspirators
only accessed each bank account a few times before moving on to their next

While these 12 people have been indicted, and prosecution will proceed against them, seven
others involved in this scam have already been charged via Informations and have pleaded
guilty to their respective roles in the operation. On September 29, 2011, Lee Vang, age 31, of
St. Paul, 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, age 26, also of St. Paul,
pleaded guilty to the same two counts. On January 9, 2012, Melissa Jean Beaman, age 36, of St.
Louis Park, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of
aggravated identity theft. On January 10, 2012, Majorie Marie Neely, age 50, of Red Wing,
pleaded guilty to the same two counts. On January 17, 2012, Frances Emily Jones, age 41, of
Superior, Wisconsin, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one
count of aggravated identity theft. On January 19, 2012, Christeena Janell Barker, age 44, no
known address; Jamie Hubert Branson, age 45, of Minneapolis, and Darryl Alan Bryant, age
54, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty to the same two counts.

Conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud itself carries a potential maximum penalty
of 30 years in federal prison for each count on which an individual is convicted. Money
laundering carries a potential maximum of 20 years. For aggravated identity theft, there is a
mandatory minimum penalty of two years in prison for each count convicted. All sentences are
determined by a federal court judge if and when a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by
a trial jury. Because the federal justice system does not have parole, prison sentences imposed
are virtually served in their entirety.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Minnesota Financial Crimes
Task Force, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service-
Criminal Investigation Division. The case was initiated by a detective with the Baxter Police
Department, who also serves on the Financial Crimes Task Force.

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 is appropriate.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen B. Schommer.

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

The IRS-Criminal Investigation Division also urges citizens to review the Taxpayer Guide
to Identity Theft, which can be found at

An indictment is a determination by a grand jury that there is probable cause to believe that offenses have been committed by a defendant. A defendant, of course, is presumed innocent until he or she pleads guilty or is proven guilty at trial.

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