Grandview Business Owner Pleads Guilty to $3 Million Extortion, Money Laundering Scheme
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that the owner of a Grandview, Mo., lawn care company pleaded guilty in federal court today to a $3 million extortion and money laundering scheme that began when a cocaine deal went awry.
Shelton E. Lewis, also known as “Steve Johnson” or “C,” 39, of Grandview, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs to extortion and money laundering.
Lewis is the owner of Green Results Landscape & Lawncare, LLC. Lewis and/or Green Results Landscape & Lawncare held three accounts at Academy Bank, a division of the Armed Forces Bank, N.A. These accounts were opened shortly after his business was formed and regularly held minimal, or as was often the case, negative balances. In August 2012, however, that changed. Lewis began depositing large cashier’s checks and business checks into these accounts. From Aug. 31, 2012, to Aug. 14, 2013, the indictment says, Lewis deposited a total of $3,050,110 into his accounts, with all the proceeds coming from the same company.
Lewis admitted today that he made multiple threats to injure that company’s owner, RW, as part of an extortion scheme.
The extortion scheme began in July 2012 when Lewis agreed to sell approximately six ounces of cocaine for $3,000 to RW. While RW was waiting for the deal to be consummated, he was approached by the police. Lewis witnessed that police contact and did not return with the agreed-upon cocaine. Lewis told RW that, since the deal was not completed, the dealer (Lewis’s source) was assessing a $10,000 penalty. RW paid the penalty and picked up what he thought was cocaine at the drop location, but only received a bag of flour.
In August 2012, Lewis told RW that he had a plan for him to get his money back. The plan was for RW to purchase a block of cocaine and sell it, thereby recouping RW’s previously spent money. RW paid the requested money and additionally provided a Rolex watch that Lewis demanded. RW was further directed to obtain a pay-as-you go, or throw-away phone for future contact.
In the fall of 2012, Lewis told RW that he had been pulled over by the police and that the money and watch were seized. Lewis also claimed that the police had RW’s fingerprints from the watch and were going to charge RW with drug conspiracy. Lewis informed RW over the throw-away phone that he knew an attorney who could make the investigation go away, but it would require paying off the attorney and the judge assigned the case. RW paid the requested money.
Lewis told RW that the attorney would contact him in the future. When a person claiming to be an attorney contacted RW on the throw-away phone, the attorney reported that an unrelated federal investigation had developed which would require additional bribes to clear up. RW paid the additional, exorbitant sum.
RW was called, again on the throw-away phone, and told that the drug cartel knew where he lived and had left a present for him, which turned out to be a box full of Winchester .45-caliber, semi-automatic ammunition. Additionally, RW was told that if he failed to make the payments requested, he or any family member presently in his home would have their heads chopped off.
These threats were made using a throw-away phone that RW had been instructed to obtain. The phone calls were often followed by text messages describing payments that RW was expected to make in order to keep him from being charged with a crime, or to prevent violence from being inflicted upon him.
After receiving the money from his victim, Lewis repeatedly engaged in a series of financial transactions involving the proceeds of a criminal offense. For example, Lewis paid $167,000 for a 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo, $61,000 for a 2005 Bentley, $65,500 for a 2007 Aston Martin, $45,595 for a 2011 Aston Martin and $23,000 for a 2013 Chevrolet Camaro; made multiple cash withdrawals at the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., totaling more than $137,000; spent $27,708 to purchase jewelry, sunglasses, perfume and clothing from Gucci in Las Vegas; purchased a Rolex watch; and paid $100,000 to pay off a mortgage.
Under federal statutes, Lewis is subject to a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $500,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
By pleading guilty today, Lewis must forfeit to the government a $3,050,110 money judgment (representing the proceeds obtained by Lewis from the scheme), $1,053,586 that has been seized from his bank accounts and the vehicles he purchased (also including a 2006 Mercedes Benz).
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Valenti. It was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department.