Final guilty pleas expose multi-state identity fraud ring
Authorities in Georgia, Alabama collaborated on prosecutions
BRUNSWICK, GA: The last of four defendants has admitted guilt in an elaborate multi-state scheme to use stolen information to create fake identity cards for fraudulently purchasing cell phones.
Kenson Hunte, 36, of Canton, Ga., pled guilty to Possession with Intent to Use Five or More False Identification Documents in a case from the Southern District of Georgia, and to Aggravated Identify Theft in a related case from the Northern District of Alabama, said David H. Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Hunte faces a statutory penalty of up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 fines in the Georgia case, and a minimum of two years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines in the Alabama case, all followed by a period of supervised release. There is no parole in the federal system.
“Hunte and his codefendants attempted to enrich themselves by creating and using fake documents that potentially put dozens of innocent people at substantial financial risk,” said David H. Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “We commend the Georgia State Patrol for exposing this scheme while working to keep our highways safe.”
“This defendant left innocent people with the burden of repairing their financial reputation,” said U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama. “Through collaboration with our fellow U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Georgia, this perpetrator has been brought to justice.”
Three codefendants also have admitted to participating in the scheme, with Sheryl Henderson, 39, of Norcross, Ga.; Colby Hart, 27, of Vidalia, Ga.; and Monique Laing, 23, of Atlanta, all pleading guilty to Possession with Intent to Use Five or More False Identification Documents. Henderson awaits sentencing, while Laing is serving 16 months in federal prison and Hart is on supervised release after being sentenced to time served. Hunte’s sentencing date has not yet been set.
All four defendants were in a vehicle driven by Henderson that was stopped for speeding by a Georgia State Patrol trooper on State Road 27 in Glynn County on March 6, 2019. During a subsequent search, troopers found 44 fake driver’s licenses and identification cards appearing to have been issued in various states, with all of the cards using the personal information of other individuals.
Evidence presented in court showed that beginning in or about January 2019 through May 2019 in Jefferson County, in the Northern District of Alabama, Hunte and a co-conspirator used the fraudulently created identification cards to purchase cell phones and network contracts through a third-party retailer in a Wal-Mart store in Homewood, Ala. Hunte paid only a percentage of the cost up front for the phones and contracts, fraudulently purchasing approximately 127 phones.
The conspirator received employee commissions from the retailer and kickbacks from Hunte, while Hunte profited from the black market sale of the fraudulently obtained phones. The total loss amount from the conspiracy is $104,347.16.
“Even the most conniving criminals can’t outrun the team effort of the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies tasked with pursuing them,” said U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Steven R. Baisel. “This case should serve as a reminder to fraudsters that you can’t escape the long arm of the law.”
“These guilty pleas are the result of the determination and hard work of federal, state and local investigators and prosecutors who aggressively pursue allegations of identity theft,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI will continue to work hard to pursue any individual who greedily puts innocent people at financial risk for their own personal gain.”
The cases were investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service, with assistance from the Georgia State Patrol and the Glynn County Sheriff’s Department, and prosecuted for the United States by Southern District of Georgia Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Bearden and Northern District of Alabama Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin B. Mark.