NC men use stolen identities to apply for loans, federal government says

A group of four men in Charlotte are accused of orchestrating an elaborate ploy to apply for auto loans and buy expensive goods from Apple using stolen personal information they bought from the dark web.

Now they are going to jail.

A federal judge has collectively sentenced the group to more than 20 years in prison, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina said in a statement. Two of the men are also accused of applying for COVID-19 unemployment benefits with the stolen information.

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. announced the convictions at the Charlotte Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, November 16. During the hearing, he called the coronavirus fraud scheme “strikingly reprehensible” and said it was important “to punish defendants who seek to profit from national disasters.

Defense attorneys appointed to represent the men did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Thursday, November 18.

Here are the people involved and the prison sentences they received:

â–ª Jamel Johnson, 31, was sentenced to five years and 10 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and electronic fraud, financial institution fraud and aggravated identity theft.

â–ª David Clarke, 30, was sentenced to four years and six months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and electronic fraud and aggravated identity theft.

â–ª Justin Parks, 32, was sentenced to five years and five months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and electronic fraud and aggravated identity theft.

â–ª Mikael Roberts, 27, was sentenced to four years and nine months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and electronic fraud and aggravated identity theft.

The so-called diet

A grand jury indicted the men in June 2020, according to court documents, and the alleged fraud dates back to 2019.

Prosecutors said the group obtained people’s names, social security numbers, birthdays and addresses online. An attorney representing Johnson said in sentencing documents that his client purchased the personally identifiable information from the dark web, which he allegedly learned from Clarke.

The group then shared the stolen profiles with each other in text messages and on messaging sites, according to the indictment.

A fifth unidentified person in court records fabricated fake IDs using the stolen personal information and photographs of the four men, which were then used to apply for personal and auto loans from various banks, the said. government. After the money was distributed to the bank accounts they controlled, prosecutors said, the group “quickly used up the loan funds before the fraud could be detected.”

They are also accused of using stolen personal information and fake IDs to purchase Apple iPhones and iPads.

Two of the identities the group allegedly stole included car dealership owners in Charlotte, the government said. The group used the information to open bank accounts on behalf of the auto dealers, prosecutors said, and then deposited the loan proceeds into those accounts.

The men also changed dealer addresses with the U.S. Postal Service to have their mail routed elsewhere, the government said in sentencing documents.

In total, prosecutors said the group attempted to obtain more than $ 1 million in fraudulent loans and merchandise.

While under investigation, law enforcement reportedly came across a separate scheme involving claims for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson and Clarke, who are cousins, were charged with filing fraudulent unemployment claims in Wisconsin and Arizona and were subsequently charged.

Johnson has been accused of receiving more than $ 189,912 in unemployment benefits using the stolen identities of around 70 people. Prosecutors said Clarke obtained more than $ 79,000 using the names of more than 60 people.

Arrests, convictions

Arrest warrants for their arrests were issued the same day of the indictment and Johnson was the first to be taken into custody, court documents show. He was released on $ 25,000 bail.

Clarke was arrested soon after and released on bail, which was revoked after he allegedly violated the terms of his release. A judge also ordered Parks and Roberts to remain in custody pending trial after their arrest.

Court documents show Parks was the first to plead guilty in September. Johnson and Clarke followed soon after with plea deals reached in October, and Roberts pleaded guilty in early November.

Prosecutors largely blamed Johnson and Clarke for the fraud in the sentencing documents. They said the couple, combined with Parks, continued the program even after the pandemic began and “while most of Charlotte was on lockdown.”

According to court documents, Johnson and Clarke received a larger share of the money, obtained the stolen personal information and fake IDs, applied for the loans and opened the fake bank accounts for car dealerships.

Parks and Roberts, meanwhile, acted as intermediaries with the banks, where prosecutors said they used fake ID to secure the loans.

Defense attorneys representing Parks and Roberts have referred to their relatively minor roles in requests for lesser sentences.

“Mr. Roberts is guilty of the offense of which he was convicted because he aided Mr. Johnson in this crime,” Roberts’ attorney said in court documents. “Nonetheless, he has it. done without expecting a substantial financial benefit, and he received very little. ”

Parks asked the court if he could serve his sentence at a facility that offers a vocational CVC training program and cited troubling conditions at Mecklenburg County Jail during the pandemic, saying he spent several months in an isolated unit with a COVID-19 outbreak.

“Over the past year, Mr. Parks has engaged in personal reflection and taken steps to improve himself,” his lawyer said. “He is changing and evolving as a human being and is ready to move forward on a more positive path.”

Lawyers representing Johnson, meanwhile, called him “gifted” with no criminal record. They said he learned to invest in the stock market in college and became addicted to “the race for quick money,” which made him go into debt and give up.

His lawyers blamed much of the criminal conduct on his cousin Clarke.

“Jamel is prepared to pay his debt to society and while remaining steadfast in his commitment to travel this necessary journey to live a life of integrity, a good work ethic, healthy lifestyle choices, loyalty to family and a positive example for his legacy, “Johnson’s lawyers said in court documents.

But prosecutors blasted the attempt to downplay Johnson’s role in the fraud, saying he “played a key role” and deserved a long prison sentence as a result.

Johnson ultimately received the longest prison sentence of the four men.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer and covers the latest real-time news in North and South Carolina. She graduated in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining The Observer in 2019.

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