Georgia Man Indicted for Organizing and Operating an Interstate Jury-Duty Scam Out of His State Prison Cell in Georgia
BIRMINGHAM – A federal grand jury today indicted a Georgia man for organizing and operating an interstate jury-duty scam out of his state prison cell in Georgia, announced U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. and U.S. Marshal Martin Keely.
A nine-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges RICO RAYMOND COOK, 45, of Georgia, with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and impersonating a federal officer. A federal grand jury in July indicted two other Georgia residents, TEIANA MARIE TAYLOR, 35, and ORENTHIAL WALKER, 42, for conspiracy to commit wire fraud with false information concerning jury duty.
“The federal government has many ways to make good on debts owed to the United States,” Town said. “Sometimes we knock on your door. Sometimes we don’t even knock. But we never will cold call you.”
“Sometimes we find our suspects in the front yard or back yard, it is not often we find our suspects in the prison yard,” said Keely. “This sends the message that we will find you.”
According to Cook’s indictment, he procured a cell phone for use inside the Georgia state prison where he was serving time. Georgia state prison system records show that Cook is currently serving a sentence for armed robbery, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, false imprisonment, aggravated assault and first-degree burglary. While in prison, Cook provided the contraband cell phone to a co-conspirator who used it to call residents in the Northern District of Alabama and falsely claim to be an employee of the U.S. Marshals Service or the U.S. District Court. The caller also would falsely claim that the Alabama resident had failed to appear for jury duty, that a judge had issued a warrant for his or her arrest, and then would demand money, according to the indictment.
If the resident agreed to pay, the caller would demand that the victim transfer the money by means of gift cards or through commercial money transfer services to an account controlled by Cook and his co-conspirators, according to his indictment. Cook instructed his co-conspirators to withdraw proceeds of the scheme and transfer the money at his direction, often to members of his family, according to the indictment.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy to commit wire fraud is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for wire fraud is 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross amount of gain or loss, whichever is greater. The maximum penalty for impersonating a federal official is three years in prison and a $250,000 fine or twice the gross amount of gain or loss, whichever is greater.
Victims of this fraud commonly report that the scammers sound convincing and speak authoritatively. The scammers may use real information about the victim and accurate court addresses. They may also use the real names of law enforcement officers, court officials, and federal judges to make the scam appear more credible. They may even “spoof” the phone number on caller ID so that it falsely appears to be from the court or a government agency.
Citizens can protect themselves by knowing these facts about federal jury service:
- The court will always send a jury summons by U.S. Mail.
- The court and law enforcement will never demand payment over the phone.
- The court and law enforcement will never demand a gift card number to satisfy an obligation.
- A prospective juror who disregards a jury summons will be contacted through the mail by the court clerk’s office and may, in certain circumstances, be ordered to appear before a judge. Such an order will always be in writing and signed by the judge.
- A fine will never be imposed until after the individual has appeared in court and been given the opportunity to explain his or her failure to appear. If a fine is imposed, it will be in open court and reduced to writing (and will not be payable by gift card number).
Citizens who wish to verify whether they were summoned for federal jury duty may contact the Northern District of Alabama’s jury office at 1-800-222-8715. Citizens can report a scam phone call by contacting the FBI Birmingham Field Office at 205-326-6166.
The FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service investigated this case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan S. Keim is prosecuting.
An indictment contains only charges. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.