Former Customs Employee Pleads Guilty To Auctioning Online A Customs Declaration Form Signed By A Celebrity
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A criminal bill of indictment was unsealed today in federal court charging five individuals for their involvement in a $3 million debt collection scheme operating in Mecklenburg County that targeted victims throughout the country, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. A criminal bill of information was also filed today charging a sixth defendant for her role in the conspiracy.
John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in North Carolina joins U.S. Attorney Rose in making today’s announcement.
The indictment charges John Wayne Perry, Jr. 36; Rhonda Renee Scott, 52; Timothy Scott, Jr., 51; Paris Jontue Taylor, 37; and Rayshawn Lamont Tyler, 42, all of Charlotte, with mail and wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud offenses. Perry, Taylor and Tyler are also each charged with one count of money laundering conspiracy. The indictment was returned by the federal grand jury on July 19, 2017, and was unsealed following today’s arrests of four named defendants. A warrant remains outstanding for Tyler’s arrest.
In a related case, Miranda Bailey, 29, of Charlotte, is charged separately with one count of wire fraud and mail fraud conspiracy. A signed plea agreement was also filed today and Bailey’s plea hearing has been set for Wednesday, July 26, 2017.
“The individuals charged today used intimidation, threats, and lies, including posing as lawyers and law enforcement, to scare victims into paying often non-existent debts. Their shake-down tactics included harassing the victims’ friends and families until they received payment,” said U.S. Attorney Rose. “Debt collections schemes are on the rise. We caution the public to be vigilant when receiving calls in which the caller uses threatening language similar to that alleged in the Bill of Indictment. Do not get ripped off. If contacted by a purported debt collector who threatens you with criminal charges, hang up the phone and notify law enforcement,” Rose added.
“It is difficult enough for many Americans to make ends meet and pay their bills on time. For criminals to prey on these hard working people is inexcusable. The FBI is working to uncover these fraudulent companies and hold those accountable for their predatory and criminal actions,” said Special Agent in Charge Strong.
According to allegations contained in the indictment, from at least January 2013 to November 2014, the co-conspirators operated a fraudulent debt collection company in Mecklenburg County, known at various points as RJ Financial Services and/or Nationwide Asset & Recovery (RJ Financial, collectively). RJ Financial allegedly defrauded thousands of debtors throughout the United States of approximately $3 million. Court documents allege that the co-conspirators targeted individuals and generally executed their scheme to defraud by coercing purported debtors to pay money, some of which was not even owed, by providing false and misleading information and using harassing and abusive tactics.
According to the indictment, Perry and Rayshawn Tyler were leaders of the conspiracy, and owners and operators of RJ Financial. Paris Taylor was also a leader of the conspiracy and used aliases “Brittany Martin” or “London Taylor” when speaking with purported debtors. Co-defendant Timothy Scott served as the scheme’s Operations Manager. He also used different “shake” names, such as “Dean McCoy” and “George Raffino.” Co-defendant Rhonda Scott served as a team leader or supervisor and collector, and generally used aliases or the “shake” names “Ada Brown” and “Katlin Pierce,” when talking to purported debtors. Co-conspirator Bailey served as a collector and team leader in the conspiracy, and used the “shake” name “Savannah Grant.”
According to the indictment, prior to joining RJ Financial, Timothy Scott was affiliated with another fraudulent debt collection company, known at various points as Capital Solutions Agency, and/or Berkley Hughes and Associates and/or The Vortex Group, collectively “BHA.” Seven co-conspirators associated with that scheme have been charged federally and are awaiting sentencing.
Timothy Scott helped the leader of the BHA scheme, Cedric Clark, learn the business. Timothy Scott also ran the operation of BHA. In that role at BHA, Timothy Scott assisted in hiring, provided scripts for use by collectors, monitored collectors’ calls, and closed the calls, including by pretending to be an attorney to induce victims to pay their purported debts. Also, prior to joining RJ Financials, Bailey and Rhonda Scott were collectors at BHA.
RJ Financial and BHA worked together and operated in much the same manner, the indictment alleges. For example, in addition to overlap in employees and scripts, RJ Financial and BHA purchased purported debt amounts together, splitting the lists and the costs. RJ Financial also paid Clark for skip-tracing services, to help locate biographical information about the purported debtors, including phone numbers, addresses, and social security numbers. The co-conspirators used this information coerce the debtors to pay their debts.
The indictment further alleges that when contacting purported debtors, RJ Financial collectors were instructed to follow scripts that included false and misleading information and various scare tactics to induce victims into paying moneys. For example, among the false and fraudulent representations in the script were that:
The collector was calling “to investigate and possibly file 2 charges against you (the Debtor) in (Debtor’s local county court)” and that those charges included “Breach of contract or fraud” and “Malicious intent to defraud a financial institution.”
“Federal law does require that I inform you that you do have the right to offer a counter offer; most defendants offer close to what they originally borrowed, plus the $300 civil penalty…assessed by the state….”
The indictment also alleges that in order to disguise the fraudulent nature of the business and scare purported debtors, the collectors:
Frequently changed the name of the purported company they were working for when making calls so that victims would not be able to locate truthful information about the company.
In some Instances the collectors falsely represented that they were law firms, that they had attorneys on staff to consult, and/or that the collectors themselves were attorneys.
At times, they falsely represented to be members of law enforcement or that they were working with or affiliated with law enforcement, sometimes going as far as to play a police scanner in the background.
They used aliases, commonly known as “shake” names, when making the calls and fraudulently identified themselves as “investigators” purportedly calling on behalf of a “client.”
The indictment alleges RJ Financial also often engaged in other scare tactics to fraudulently induce purported debtors, including:
Harassing family members and friends to get the purported debtor to call them and pay them.
Threatening that imminent civil and/or criminal charges would be filed if the debtor did not make arrangements to pay during the call.
Threatening that the victims would be served with arrest warrants, subpoenas, restraining orders, and garnishment of wages, if they did not make arrangements to pay during the call.
Each of the five defendants is charged with one count of engaging in a fraudulent debt collection conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of wire fraud, which each carry a maximum prison term of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and carries a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount of the criminally derived proceeds.
All charges contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The Charlotte Division of the FBI is leading the investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Maria K. Vento, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, is in charge of the prosecution.