Former Fresno-Area Auto Dealer Sentenced to 4.5 Years in Prison for Bank Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — On Thursday, a federal grand jury returned a 13-count indictment against Eric Lemoyne Willis, 42, of West Sacramento, and Darron Dimitri Ross, 33, of Charlotte, North Carolina, charging them with conspiracy to defraud and commit crimes against the United States, theft of government property, aggravated identity theft, and wire fraud, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
According to court documents, Willis and Ross allegedly conspired to steal public money from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Willis worked as an SSA Operation Supervisor in Sacramento and Lodi from 2015 until his departure in January 2018. During this timeframe, Willis used his authority as an SSA employee to access the confidential Social Security records of numerous Social Security beneficiaries. These records contained personally identifiable information (PII) including names, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth, account numbers, family information, and benefit payment amounts. Willis would seek out PII for beneficiaries who used direct deposit for payment of large benefits. Willis then gave this PII to Ross who resided in North Carolina.
Ross’s role in these crimes included calling numerous SSA field offices across the country and using the stolen PII to impersonate the beneficiaries. Ross also opened at least 44 online bank accounts under fraudulent identities to receive diverted SSA benefit payments. If Ross succeeded in convincing an SSA representative that he was the beneficiary, he would request that the beneficiary’s direct deposit account be changed to one of Ross’s fraudulent accounts. The SSA then proceeded to deposit benefit payments into Ross’s account until the fraud was detected. Ross was then free to withdraw the funds at ATMs and spend the money using debit cards. Ross also transferred a portion of the stolen proceeds to Willis for his participation in these crimes.
SSA has identified at least 148 beneficiaries targeted by these crimes, and the total fraud loss suffered by SSA has exceeded $450,000. Willis and Ross spent the proceeds of their crimes on, among other things, trips to Las Vegas and luxury items including Rolex watches.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Social Security Administration – Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Artuz is prosecuting the case.
Federal agents arrested Willis and Ross last week based on a criminal complaint. Willis was released on bond in Sacramento, and Ross was detained pending his appearance in the Eastern District of California.
If convicted of wire fraud, Willis and Ross face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted of aggravated identity theft, they each face a mandatory sentence of two years in prison consecutive to any other sentence imposed. The maximum sentence for theft of government property is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum sentence for conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.