Middleman Sentenced to 110 Months for Facilitating Bribes Between Nightclub and Bar Owners and a District Tax Official
WASHINGTON – James Trankle, 55, previously of Churchton, Maryland, was sentenced to 60 months in prison for conspiracy to commit mail and bank fraud, and five additional counts of bank fraud. The charges all stemmed from a scheme in which Trankle created fake charities, solicited donations, and then stole the identities of the donors he tricked into giving funds. Many of the victims were older adults.
The sentence, in posted on December 1, 2023, was announced by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves and Inspector-in-Charge Damon Wood of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Washington Division. In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden ordered five years of supervised release, restitution of $204,561, and forfeiture of $135,327.
Trankle was found guilty on May 15, 2023, following a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to evidence presented in court, from 2013 to 2018 Trankle and his co-defendant, Stephen Sibert, created fake charities, registered those entities with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), and then presented them as legitimate charities. Among the examples included the bogus “Disabled and Paralyzed Veterans Fund,” the “National Breast Cancer Awareness Fund,” and the “Children’s Leukemia of America Fund.”
Trankle used a post office box address in Washington, D.C., as the official mailing address for the fake charities. He opened numerous bank accounts in the names of the fraudulent charities. And he sent solicitations via U.S. mail to thousands of potential donors—his targeted victims—nationwide, asking the recipients to send personal checks as donations. Through the scheme, Trankle obtained over 1,600 personal checks from victims who thought they were making charitable gifts. Trankle then deposited those checks into bank accounts that he and Sibert controlled. The government’s analysis of those accounts showed that the conspirators obtained more than $45,000 from their victims who falsely believed that they were giving money to legitimate organizations.
In addition, using the bank account and routing information from the victims’ checks, the conspirators printed additional unauthorized counterfeit checks payable to their fraudulent charities that were then drawn against the victims’ personal checking accounts. The conspirators deposited those unauthorized counterfeit checks into the bank accounts they controlled, and then later withdrew the money and spent the funds on personal expenses. In total, Trankle and Sibert deposited more than 700 counterfeit checks with a total value of more than $150,000.
The fraudulent charities did not perform any of the charitable work described in their solicitations, nor did the fraudulent charities provide any significant funds to other charities that did so. Trankle concealed his scheme under the guise of operating a church from his office in Maryland.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Washington Division. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Borchert and Brian Kelly, and Paralegal Specialist Gina Torres Trujillo.