BALTIMORE – Christopher Andre Devine, 33, of Salisbury, Md., Frederica, Del., and Philadelphia, Pa. pleaded guilty today to conspiracy 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.
According to his plea agreement, from Dec. 1, 2008 through Dec. 22, 2011, in Maryland, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, Devine and his co-defendants, Quanishia Williamson-Ross, 31, and Lenee E. Williamson, 22, both of Salisbury, Md., Frederica, Del.,and Philadelphia, Pa. 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. Williamson-Ross and Williamson previously pleaded guilty to the same charges.
Devine also purchased the identifying information of at least 21 individuals who were clients in a residential program for adults with mental health needs (the program), which he purchased from an individual who was employed at 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 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, video rentals and other businesses.
Devine also participated in a scheme to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (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/debit cards, Social Security number cards (SSNs), fraudulent driver's licenses, and personal identifying information such as names, addresses, SSNs and credit information of approximately 300 individuals, at least 21 of whom were residents at 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.
Devine, Williamson-Ross and Williamson are detained and each face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison for the bank fraud conspiracy and two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for aggravated identity theft. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has scheduled sentencing for Devine, Williamson-Ross and Williamson for March 1, 2013 at 9:30 a.m., Dec. 17 and Dec. 11 at 9:15 a.m., respectively.
The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; the Wicomico County Sheriff's Office; IRS, Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; and the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Division.
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.