Leader Of Local Hip-Hop Group Pleads Guilty To Bank And Wire Fraud Conspiracy And Aggravated Identity Theft Charges
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced today that Damonte Withers, 29, of Charlotte, pleaded guilty in federal court to bank fraud conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft charges in connection to a bank and identity theft scheme.
Withers’ co-defendants, James Willingham, Jr., 24; Deandre Howze, 23; Jeffrey Monteith, 22; and Laerek Williams, 26; as well as co-conspirators Alexsandera Mobley, 28; Lakesiah Norman, 37; and Sharrieff Pope, 25, all of Charlotte, previously entered guilty pleas for their involvement in the conspiracy.
U.S. Attorney Murray is joined in making today’s announcement by David M. McGinnis, Inspector in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Reginald DeMatteis, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service, Charlotte Field Office; and Chief Kerr Putney of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department.
According to filed plea documents and today’s plea hearing, Withers, also known as “Tony da Boss” on social media, and his co-conspirators, were members of a local hip-hop group known as the “FreeBandz Gang” or “FBG.”
According to court documents, from February 2014 through January 2016, Withers conspired with others to commit bank fraud by engaging in what is commonly known as a “card-cracking” scheme. As part of the scheme, Withers and his co-conspirators recruited individuals to hand over their bank account ATM/debit cards and PINs in exchange for the promise of an easy pay-day. Withers and other members of FBG would then deposit fraudulent or stolen checks into the bank accounts using the corresponding ATMs or mobile banking applications, triggering a credit to the account. Court records show that Withers and his co-conspirators would then quickly withdraw cash from the accounts, before the banks could determine the deposited checks were worthless.
Filed documents also show that from October 2016 to December 2017, Withers and members of FBG conspired to commit wire fraud using victims’ stolen identities to fraudulently acquire cellular phones, tablets and other goods so they could resell them for profit. Court records show that Withers and other members of the conspiracy obtained victims’ names, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, and other personal identifying information, and used that information to manufacture fake IDs, which they then used to complete fraudulent credit applications in the identity theft victims’ names. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement found Withers to be in possession of several items used to manufacture the fictitious identification cards, and of the personal identifying information of at least 18 individuals.
According to plea documents and today’s proceedings, Withers admitted to causing between $550,000 and $1.5 million in losses as a result of his fraud.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer presided over Withers’ guilty plea. Withers was released on bond following today’s hearing. A sentencing date has not been set.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray commended the work of the United States Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department for their investigation of this case.
Assistant United States Attorney Dallas J. Kaplan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte is in charge of the prosecution.