BALTIMORE – A Maryland man was sentenced Friday to 121 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release for conspiring to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to use the personal identifying information of individuals to open bank accounts and fraudulently obtain cash, merchandise and services.
The sentencing of Christopher Andre Devine, 34, of Salisbury, Md., Frederica, Del., and Philadelphia, Pa., follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Baltimore Field Office; the Wicomico County Sheriff's Office; the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; and the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Division.
According to his plea agreement, from December 2008 through Dec. 22, 2011, in Maryland, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, Devine and his co-defendants, Quanishia Williamson-Ross, 31, Lenee E. Williamson, 22, and Quashonna Williamson, age unknown, opened or recruited others to open checking accounts at banks and obtain check cards, which the conspirators then controlled. The conspirators then deposited fraudulent checks into the accounts and used the associated check cards at ATM machines to make cash withdrawals from the accounts.
According to evidence presented to the court, Williamson-Ross and the Williamsons gave all of the proceeds from the scheme to Devine who provided them with little more than food and shelter. The women lived with Devine and were completely financially dependent on him. According to court testimony, Devine used a minor to further the scheme and led the group of conspirators with violence and intimidation, including punching and throwing a conspirator across a room.
Devine also obtained the identifying information of at least 40 individuals who were clients, and 60 individuals who were current or former employees, of a residential program for adults with mental health needs, which he purchased from an individual who was employed by the program. Devine used the personal identifying information of these victims to open checking accounts via the telephone and Internet that he then controlled for use in the scheme.
Devine and his co-conspirators had fraudulent identification documents made using the personal information of others but with photographs of Devine, Williamson-Ross and Lenee Williamson, which they used, along with the check cards, to make purchases at retail stores, later returning the purchased items for cash. The conspirators also used the check cards to obtain services, such as utilities, cable, and cellular phone service, and to make purchases for their personal benefit at restaurants, drug stores, grocery stores, gas stations and video rentals and other businesses.
Devine also participated in a scheme to defraud the IRS by preparing and filing false tax returns in the names of individuals recruited for the tax fraud scheme and using the personal identifying information of clients in the program. For the 2010 tax year, at least 34 false tax returns were filed, claiming $123,126 in false refunds. Refunds from many of the false tax returns were direct deposited into bank accounts controlled by Devine through the bank fraud scheme.
In December 2011, law enforcement searched a van and two residences in Salisbury used by the co-conspirators. Hundreds of pieces of evidence were seized, including credit and debit cards, Social Security cards, fraudulent driver's licenses and personal identifying information of approximately 300 individuals, at least 100 of whom were clients or employees of the program.
Over the course of the scheme, Devine and his co-conspirators used the stolen identifying information of at least 24 individuals to open at least 73 checking accounts at financial institutions, resulting in a loss of at least $200,000.
Williamson-Ross and Lenee Williamson previously pleaded guilty to the same charges and are awaiting sentencing.
This law enforcement action is part of President Barack Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul E. Budlow and Kristi N. O'Malley.