Three Men Indicted In $2.5 Million Fraud Scheme Using Stolen Social Security Numbers
Baltimore, Maryland – A federal grand jury has indicted Benjamin Bland, age 39, of Glen Allen, Virginia; Michael Westbrook age 36; and Anthony Simpson, age 43, both of Baltimore, on charges arising from a scheme to allow individuals with poor credit histories and criminal records to obtain money and property using misappropriated social security numbers and fraudulently established credit histories. The second superseding indictment, which was returned on October 14, 2014 and unsealed late yesterday, adds Bland as a defendant and seeks the forfeiture of at least $2.5 million and luxury vehicles.
The second superseding indictment was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge William Winter of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Bland owned New Credit History, a company headquartered in Richmond, Virginia that hosts a website and purports to provide individuals with new credit through the issuance of a “secondary credit number.” Westbrook owned The Westbrook Project, a home renovation company incorporated in Maryland.
According to the 17 count indictment, from February 2012 to October 2014, the defendants obtained social security numbers previously issued to other persons and sold the misappropriated social security numbers by email and cell phone text messaging to individuals. The defendants provided these individuals with counterfeit social security cards and driver’s licenses with materially false information that would link the user to the misappropriated social security numbers. The defendants instructed the individuals to submit false credit applications to commercial lenders and retailers to generate improved credit scores, and to prepare and submit false loan applications to lenders to receive money and property.
The indictment charges Westbrook with acquiring fraudulent credit accounts for his clients and himself to enhance their fraudulent credit histories.
The defendants face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison for conspiring to commit wire fraud and for each of four counts of wire fraud; five years in prison on each of five counts for social security fraud; and a mandatory minimum of two years in prison consecutive to any other sentence on each of seven counts for aggravated identity theft. An initial appearance and arraignment for Bland was held on October 21, 2104, in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Bland was released under the supervision of U.S. Pretrial Services. No court appearance has been scheduled for Westbrook and Simpson, who were arrested previously and remain released under the supervision of U.S. Pretrial Services.
An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
Co-defendant Donneltric Johnson, age 36, of Baltimore, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 5, 2014, at 9:30 a.m.
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. Since the inception of FFETF in November 2009, the Justice Department has filed more than 12,841 financial fraud cases against nearly 18,737 defendants including nearly 3,500 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the HSI Baltimore for its work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein praised the HSI Richmond, Virginia; Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties Police Departments; Henrico County, Virginia Police Department; the Eastern District of Virginia United States Attorney’s Office; U.S. Secret Service Richmond Field Office; and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Richmond, for their assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark W. Crooks, who is prosecuting the case.