PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A fourth Georgia man charged in federal court in Rhode Island with participating in a long-running scheme to entice homeless and transient individuals in the Providence area to cash counterfeit business checks in return for cash payments pled guilty today to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, announced United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.
Cortavious Benford, 28, of Atlanta, GA, pled guilty today; Austin Weaver, 26, of Decatur, GA, pled guilty on April 6; Jalen Ronald Stanford, 28, of East Point, GA, pled guilty on March 10; and Michael Williams, 27, of East Point, GA, pled guilty on July 7, 2021.
Benford, Weaver, and Stanford are awaiting sentencing; Williams was sentenced by U.S. District Chief Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., on February 16, 2022, to 41 months in federal prison to be followed by 3 years of federal supervised release. A defendant’s sentence is determined by a federal district judge after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
According to charging documents, homeless and other individuals enlisted by the four men were provided a bogus business check in their name and driven to financial institutions in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, and elsewhere. The bogus business checks had been created by members of the conspiracy using stolen banking information of actual businesses. The individuals recruited by the conspirators were instructed on how to enter the bank, cash the check using their own Rhode Island ID card or driver’s license for identification, and then return to the vehicle with the cash. Upon their return, a member of the conspiracy paid them between $100 and $200.
Two members of the conspiracy, Michael Williams and Cortavious Benford, were arrested on February 5, 2021, after they recruited and drove a homeless person to a Providence bank. They threatened to injure him if he failed to provide them with all of the check’s proceeds. Despite the threat, once inside the bank, the man pointed out the vehicle parked outside of the bank as containing individuals who provided him with a counterfeit check. Providence Police located the vehicle a short distance away and arrested Williams and Benford. They were in possession of $12,000 in cash.
A court-authorized search of a Providence residence by Providence Police and the United States Secret Service resulted in the seizure of a computer, which had a program used to design and print checks; a printer; blank check stock; and an envelope containing stolen checks and approximately $5,000 in cash. Several completed fraudulent checks were found on the computer.
Jalen Ronald Stanford was arrested on February 25, 2021; Austin Weaver was arrested on March 3, 2021.
The investigation determined that members of the conspiracy attempted to cash approximately $677,687 worth of counterfeit checks throughout the New England region, causing losses to financial institutions of approximately $480,000.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee H. Vilker.