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Financial Crimes

Philadelphia man admits to 'secret shopper' and craigslist scams

PHILADELPHIA – A 57-year-old Philadelphia man pleaded guilty March 24 to all counts stemming from a counterfeit check scheme that victimized dozens of people across the United States through a series of Internet-based sales scams.

The guilty plea follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Dave Brister pleaded guilty to 24 counts, including conspiracy, five counts of mail fraud, 12 counts of wire fraud, two counts of presenting and transmitting counterfeit money orders and four counts of passing and uttering counterfeit checks. Brister faces a possible advisory sentencing guidelines range of three to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $6 million and a $2,500 special assessment at his June 17 sentencing hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Gene E.K. Pratter.

"Today’s guilty plea is yet another reminder to buyers and sellers who utilize e-commerce to not fall victimized to these scam artists who are using the Internet to facilitate their crimes," said John P. Kelleghan, special agent in charge of HSI Philadelphia. "If a business proposition sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scheme. HSI special agents were successful in identifying a manipulative criminal, who is now being held accountable for his crimes."

Brister teamed up with at least one person located outside of the United States to defraud Americans in a series of Internet-based schemes. He allegedly duped the recipients of counterfeit checks and money orders into depositing the items into their bank accounts and wiring money to him. In one scam, Brister and his co-conspirators posted advertisements on the website craigslist.com for fake jobs, which included phony positions such as "secret shoppers" and "administrative assistants." Whenever a person answered the advertisement and was "hired" for the fake job, Brister or a co-conspirator would send counterfeit money to the "new employee" along with a set of instructions on how to complete their new "employment" obligations. The instructions generally involved depositing the checks or money orders into their own bank accounts, keeping a portion as their "salary," performing some simple task, and sending the rest of the money to Brister via Western Union or MoneyGram. Only after wiring the funds to Brister did the would-be employees learn that the checks and money orders they had deposited into their bank accounts were counterfeit.

In a different scheme, a co-conspirator of Brister’s would respond to advertisements on craigslist.com for the sale of merchandise, agree to buy the advertised item, send counterfeit checks or money orders to the seller in excess of the sales price and indicate that the difference was to be spent on a third-party delivery company. Brister’s co-conspirator would identify Brister as the representative of the third-party delivery company and ask the seller to deposit the check or money order into his account, keep enough to cover both the sales price and a little bonus, and then wire the rest to Brister. As with the fake job-offer scheme, the sellers followed the instructions and wired thousands of dollars to Brister, only to learn that the monetary instruments they had received were counterfeit and their bank accounts had been debited.

In total, Brister received more than $98,000 in fraudulent proceeds from the various Internet-based schemes between January 2008 and August 2012. Brister and at least one co-conspirator also planned to send additional counterfeit checks and money orders to unsuspecting victims in the United States as part of their schemes.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark B. Dubnoff.