Leader of Bank Fraud Scheme Sentenced to Over 5 Years in Prison
Used Stolen Credit Card Numbers to Make Fraudulent Purchases and Request Refunds Which Were Deposited into Bank Accounts Set Up by Recruited Individuals
Greenbelt, Maryland – U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel sentenced Leslie Okyere, age 33, of Hyattsville, Maryland today to 66 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release for conspiring to commit bank fraud, using an unauthorized access device and aggravated identity theft. Judge Hazel also ordered Okyere to pay restitution of $1,040,646.14.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Postal Inspector in Charge Maria L. Kelokates 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 agreement and court documents, co-defendant Bertrand Essem recruited college students to open a bank account and obtain a debit card and PIN number associated with that debit card. After the recruits opened the bank accounts, Essem collected the debit cards and PIN numbers and gave them to Okyere.
Okyere kept the recruited individuals’ bank account information in a portfolio book, along with a handwritten list of telephone numbers for numerous The Home Depot stores located throughout the country, and a handwritten schedule listing the days of the week followed by dollar figures alongside the recruited individuals’ names and their debit card numbers. At the same time, Okyere obtained individual victims’ stolen credit card information from several sources, including co-defendant Godfred Obeng.
For example, sometime in 2012, Okyere recuited Obeng to fraudulently access the credit card information for cardholders from Obeng’s employer, Capital One Bank. Okkyere received approximately 538 text messages from Obeng containing stolen account numbers, cardholders’ names and addresses for the cardholders.
On numerous occasions Okeyere ordered construction materials from The Home Depot stores by phone in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $8,000, using a victim’s stolen credit card number as payment. Within a few days, Okyere called to cancel the order and requested that the refunds be sent to the debit card account numbers and bank accounts in the name of the recruited individuals. From June 2010 to January 2014, a total of approximately 173 refunds from unauthorized credit card purchases at The Home Depot were credited to bank accounts of recruited individuals.
The recruits, including Stanley Nmesirionye and Dosis Feludu, would be required to withdraw the majority of the money from the bank account and give that to Essem or to the person by whom they were recruited. The recruit could keep a portion, in some cases as much as $300, and a significant portion of the refunded money was given to Okyere.
The court determined at today’s hearing that the total loss attributable to Okyere’s conduct arising from the fraudulent scheme was $1,040,646.14.
Bertrand Awah Essem, age 28, of Beltsville, Maryland; Stanley Nmesirionye, age 25, of Owings Mills, Maryland; Dosis Feludu, age 26, of Salisbury, Maryland; Gideon Turkson age 25, of Burtonsville, Maryland and Godfred Obeng, age 39, of Glen Allen, Virginia, previously pleaded guilty to their participation in the fraud scheme. Obeng was sentenced on April 14, 2016 to three years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $338,548.45. Essem was sentenced on February 5, 2016 to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $264,757.29. Feludu, Nmesirionye and Turkson were each sentenced to a day in prison. Feludu was ordered to pay restitution of $71,221.82, Nmesirionye to pay $57,255.85 and Turkson to pay $52,953.13.
The Maryland Identity Theft Working Group has been working since 2006 to foster cooperation among local, state, federal, and institutional fraud investigators and to promote effective prosecution of identity theft schemes by both state and federal prosecutors. This case, as well as other cases brought by members of the Working Group, demonstrates the commitment of law enforcement agencies to work with financial institutions and businesses to address identity fraud, identify those who compromise personal identity information, and protect citizens from identity theft.
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 prosecuted the case.