Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow sentenced Stephen Franklin, age 54, of Salisbury, Maryland, yesterday to 66 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for a wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft in connection with the theft of more than $1.8 million from Shore Appliance Connection. Judge Chasanow also ordered that Franklin pay restitution in the full amount of the victims’ losses, which the parties stipulate is $1,850,488.94.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron and Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office.
Franklin was the chief operating officer of Accurate Optical, a chain of optometric shops on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and with the owners of Accurate Optical he also purchased East Coast Optometric, a chain of South Carolina optical shops. Franklin and co-defendant Duane G. Larmore met through the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce and became friendly.
As detailed in their plea agreements, Larmore was an employee at Shore Appliance Connection (“Shore Appliance”), located in Salisbury, Maryland, whose duties included maintaining the books and records for the company. The company was owned and operated by Owner #1 and Owner #2. From mid-September 2016 through about March 2020, Franklin conspired with others, including Larmore, to steal more than $1.8 million from Shore Appliance.
Specifically, Franklin and Larmore stole over $1 million from Shore Appliance to use for their own purposes, including to make investments and to pay business expenses for Franklin’s businesses, without the knowledge and consent of the owners of Shore Appliance. For example, Franklin convinced Larmore to invest $100,000 in an oil deal that promised quick and substantial returns. Those funds were ultimately returned to Shore Appliance because the name on the bank account did not match the named beneficiary on the wire transfer form completed by Franklin. Prior to the funds being returned and at Franklin’s urging, Larmore transferred another $100,000 to a purported attorney for the oil deal. Franklin also convinced Larmore to invest in other deals, including: in 2016, a $95,000 initial investment with a finance company in London, U.K., followed by another $300,000, plus funds for expenses and travel abroad; in 2018, an investment through W.S. of $35,000 and an investment through Gateway Capital of $50,000; and in 2019 - 2020, investments and expenses through I.P. and E. P.-S. to recover assets purportedly in the custody of U.S. Customs, part of the Department of Homeland Security. No investment paid any return to the schemers.
To conceal how much money had been removed from Shore Appliance and to obtain cash to invest, Franklin suggested that Larmore enter into factoring contracts. Franklin had experience with borrowing operating funds for his optical companies from factors and provided Larmore with the names and contact information for factoring companies. Factoring is a means by which businesses can obtain cash quickly by leveraging accounts receivable. With Franklin’s encouragement, Larmore applied for a factoring contract for Shore Appliance without the knowledge or approval of the owners, corporate directors, or officers of Shore Appliance. As detailed in the plea agreement, the factoring contracts provided cash deposits to Shore Appliance’s bank accounts but encumbered the accounts receivable of Shore Appliance and required payments and interest of more than $725,000.
To obtain contracts with factoring companies for Shore Appliance and to conceal the fact that the Shore Appliance owners were not aware of and had not approved the factoring contracts, the signatures of the owners were forged, and the fraudulent signatures were witnessed or notarized by Franklin. Further, Larmore and a female employee of Franklin’s posed as the owners in telephone conversations with representatives of the factoring companies to confirm their approval of the factoring contracts. In addition, to conceal Larmore’s embezzlements and the factoring agreements, Larmore caused Shore Appliance to draw on Shore Appliance’s lines of credit with two separate financial institutions to obtain another $200,000 in cash. As of March 2020, Shore Appliance still owed $208,394.92 in principal and interest on these lines of credit.
Finally, when Franklin’s business began having financial difficulties, at Franklin’s request, Larmore provided funds to Franklin to pay rent and employee salaries for the businesses, to rent a storage facility and to hire trucks to move equipment and office furniture when Accurate Optical was evicted from its Salisbury, Maryland office in July 2019. All the while, Franklin continued to suggest that Larmore put money into other investment schemes, which Larmore did.
In all, Larmore paid $739,295.28 of Shore Appliance’s funds, without the officers and owners’ knowledge or consent, to invest in fraudulent schemes that never paid any money back. Of that amount, $395,000 was moved through bank accounts controlled by Franklin. Franklin caused an additional loss of $171,548.67 by having Larmore transfer funds to Franklin or to Franklin’s companies. As a result of the conspiracy and efforts to conceal the losses, Shore Appliance lost an additional $731,250.07 in fees and other payments to factors and to factoring brokers. Shore appliance also paid interest of $208,395 from Larmore drawing on its bank lines of credit. For all of Franklin’s and Larmore’s conduct, actual cash losses to Shore Appliance totaled $1,850,488.94 and intended losses totaled $2,137,674.74.
Duane G. Larmore, age 48, of Salisbury, previously pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the FBI for its work in the investigation. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Evelyn Lombardo Cusson, who is prosecuting the case.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-md and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach. For more information about resources available to report fraud, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/report-fraud.
# # #