Greenbelt, Maryland – Bertrand Awah Essem, age 27, of Beltsville, Maryland pleaded guilty today to conspiring to commit bank fraud.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Postal Inspector in Charge David G. Bowers of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Washington Division; and John L. Phillips, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, U.S. Department of the Treasury - Office of Inspector General.
According to his plea, from October 2010 to July 2012, Essem recruited college students at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, promising that they could make some easy money. Essem told the recruits, to open a bank account, obtain a debit card and PIN number associated with that debit card, and provide that information to Essem. Essem told the recruits that money would be transferred into these accounts from The Home Depot. The recruit would be required to withdraw the majority of the money and give that to Essem. The recruit could keep a portion, in some cases as much as $300.
After the recruits, including Stanley Nmesirionye and Dosis Feludu, opened the bank accounts, Essem collected the debit cards and PIN numbers and provided them to another co-conspirator.
In furtherance of the scheme, a conspirator would order materials with Home Depot stores, supplying a victim’s stolen credit card number that was obtained through other means. Within a few days, a conspirator canceled the order and requested that the refund be placed on the co-conspirator’s debit card, including the debit card numbers of co-conspirators recruited by Essem,
During the course of the fraud scheme, Essem collected $264,757.29 from the co-conspirators he recruited. From December 13, 2010, to March 2011, a total of 69 refunds from The Home Depot were credited to bank accounts of individuals recruited by Essem.
Co-defendants Godfred Obeng, age 38, of Glen Allen, Virginia; Stanley Nmesirionye, age 24, of Owings Mills, Maryland, and Dosis Feludu, age 25, of Salisbury, Maryland, previously pleaded guilty to their participation in the fraud scheme and await sentencing.
Essem faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel scheduled his sentencing for February 5, 2016, at 9:00 a.m.
Today’s announcement is part of the efforts undertaken in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established 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. Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants. For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Department of the Treasury – OIG for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan E. Foreman, who is prosecuting the case.