Bowie Man Convicted in Identity Theft Fraud Scheme
Used Stolen Identities in Attempts to Finance Expensive Cars and Obtain High-Limit Credit Cards; Then Used Another Victim’s Stolen Identity While on Pre-Trial Supervision to Obtain Credit
Greenbelt, Maryland – A federal jury convicted Kenneth Wayne Watford, age 55, of Bowie, Maryland, today of conspiring to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud and attempted wire fraud, three counts of credit card fraud and attempted credit card fraud, and four counts of aggravated identity theft in connection with the wire and credit card fraud offenses. Watford’s fraud schemes involved using the stolen identities of others to purchase expensive cars and obtaining credit cards in Watford’s businesses’ names backed by other people’s credit. After being charged with the first scheme, and while on federal pre-trial supervision, Watford also used another victim’s stolen identity to obtain and use a credit card to make purchases exceeding $14,300.
The conviction was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Michalko of the United States Secret Service - Washington Field Office; Acting Postal Inspector in Charge David M. McGinnis of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Washington Division; Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department, and Chief John Nesky of the Bowie Police Department.
According to evidence presented at his six day trial, Watford, Flinton Newton and Juan Carlos Willis obtained the identity information of credit-worthy individuals, created false identity documents in the names of those individuals, and then posed as those individuals at automotive dealerships in order to apply for vehicle financing. Watford and his coconspirators filled out credit applications with dealers in Maryland and Virginia, and then used the extended credit to purchase, or attempt to purchase, expensive cars without any intention of making payments on the loans.
On June 23, 2012, Watford, Willis and a coconspirator posing as an identity theft victim used the victim’s identity to complete and submit a credit application for $77,450 in financing to purchase a 2011 BMW 750 at BMW of Silver Spring, Maryland.
On June 29, 2012, Watford used the victim’s identity to apply for an American Express business credit card account in the name of Annie M’s Groceries, a business entity Watford had registered in North Carolina the previous year. Evidence presented at trial also revealed that Watford, Willis and the unidentified co-conspirator also attempted to purchase two Cadillac Escalades using the same victim’s credit from Capitol Cadillac in Greenbelt.
On July 19, 2012, Newton and Willis returned to Capitol Cadillac in Greenbelt. On that day, Newton posed as a second victim whose identity he had fraudulently obtained, to apply for $80,663 in financing to purchase a 2013 Cadillac Escalade in the second victim’s name. Watford had provided Willis with access to a business auto insurance policy he had established in the name of Annie M’s Groceries, a company which Watford claimed to have owned. Willis used this online access to Watford’s insurance policy to obtain proof of insurance in support of the vehicle purchase.
Later that evening, Newton and Willis drove to Mercedes-Benz of Silver Spring where Newton again posed as the second victim. The men attempted to purchase a 2012 Mercedes-Benz CL550 and a 2009 Mercedez-Benz S550 for a total of $120,056. They filled out credit applications to finance the entire purchase price, again using the victim’s identity and credit, and an insurance policy under the name of Annie M’s Groceries. The dealership manager, however, saw that the victim’s credit had just been used to purchase the Cadillac Escalade, so he notified Montgomery County Police, who responded and arrested Newton and Willis.
A subsequent search of Willis’ cell phone revealed text messages between Willis and Watford concerning the purchase and use of the BMW, as well as the victim’s personal information. On July 26, 2012, Watford was arrested while driving the BMW in Bowie. Inside the car were the victim's credit reports from three credit bureaus, and a social security card and driver’s license in the name of Watford’s alias, “Abdul Abrams.” Law enforcement executed a search warrant at Watford’s residence and seized credit reports and financial documents in the names of other victims.
The total attempted loss as a result of this fraudulent scheme was between $400,000 and $1 million.
After Watford was charged for the above scheme and released pending trial in 2013, he obtained the personal identifying information of a third victim. Using that identity to guarantee the cards, Watford twice applied for credit cards in the name of a second business entity he controlled, Futranet Coaches of America. Watford’s first attempt, an application to American Express in August 2013, was declined; however, in September 2013 Watford successfully used the third victim’s credit to obtain a $15,000 line of credit with Fleetcor, LLC, a credit-card issuer specializing in fuel cards. During the next month, Watford ran up over $14,300 in purchases on cards issued on that account, including $13,000 paid to a former business associate who was holding several vehicles belonging to Watford as collateral on a large outstanding debt Watford owed him. In addition to being found guilty of two counts of unauthorized credit card use and two counts of aggravated identity theft in conjunction with this post-release conduct, Watford was also found guilty of committing these offenses while on federal pre-trial release, which means that his sentences for these counts must run consecutive to his sentence on the automobile-related fraud charges.
The federal jury acquitted Watford of the charge of being a felon in possession of a gun.
Watford faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the conspiracy count; 30 years in prison for each wire fraud count; 10 years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm; 15 years in prison for each credit card fraud count; and a mandatory minimum of two years in prison consecutive to any other sentence for each aggravated identity theft count. U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte scheduled sentencing for July 28, 2015, at 9:30 a.m.
Flinton Newton, age 34, of Bartlett, Tennessee previously pleaded guilty to his participation in the scheme and was sentenced to 42 months in prison for conspiring to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Juan Carlos Willis, age 41, of Hyattsville, Maryland pleaded guilty to the same offenses on the day before his trial was scheduled to begin, and is awaiting sentencing.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Montgomery County Police Department and Bowie Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Adam K. Ake and Special Assistant United States Attorney James I. Pearce, who are prosecuting the case.