Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill today announced the indictment of 39 individuals for stealing more than $1 million through a counterfeit check cashing and larceny scheme that resulted in up to $2.5 million in fraud. The defendants are charged in multiple New York State Supreme Court indictments with Enterprise Corruption, Grand Larceny in the Second and Third Degrees, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, and Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree.
“These defendants are accused of luring young people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to join a ‘debit card cracking’ scheme which netted more than a million dollars in cash,” said District Attorney Vance. “Kids on social media who see posts like these—staged in hot tubs, sports cars, or among piles of cash—should know that debit card cracking is illegal, and is on law enforcement’s radar. You will not get to keep the money, and you could end up in jail.”
“The alleged fraud was clever, luring participants in via Snapchat and Instagram. Fortunately, the defendants were not beyond the reach of the NYPD detectives who unraveled this scheme,” said Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill. “I commend our detectives who worked this case, with Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the skilled team of prosecutors at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, who together secured these indictments, bringing 39 criminals to justice.”
Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) New York said: “From ringleaders and runners to recruiters and enforcers, the defendants in this case covered every aspect of their fraudulent business. They allegedly committed more than $2.5 million dollars in fraud, but now, because of joint law enforcement efforts to bring down this criminal check-cashing ring, they will have nothing to show for it.”
Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”) said: “These suspects thought they were clever when then devised a scheme to produce and negotiate counterfeit checks. They were foolish to believe their unlawful acts would go undetected by law enforcement.”
According to the indictments and documents filed in court, between January 2013 and April 2017, the defendants engaged in a criminal forgery and larceny scheme that involved the creation of counterfeit checks, deposit of those checks into bank accounts provided by complicit account holders, and use of debit cards to withdraw the credited funds before the fraud could be detected by banks—an increasingly widespread practice known as “debit card cracking.”
OLUWAROTIMI OREDUGBA, 22, NATHANIEL WILLIAMS, 23, JOSHUA BEST, 22, JUBRIM JOHNSON, 20, DAVAR VALENTINE, 23, and DENNIS REYNOLDS, 22, acted as ringleaders of the group. In their roles as self-described “plugs,” they were responsible for overseeing operations, managing financial transactions, and connecting scheme participants.
Under their direction, KASSIM FORBES, 24, and MARLON FOUNSETTE, 19, who were employees of two PLS Financial Services check-cashing locations on Staten Island, stole legitimate account information and routing numbers, which were aggregated by BRENDON SARFO, 19, and BRYAN SARFO, 19, and then provided to the “plugs” to create counterfeit checks.
The counterfeit checks were subsequently deposited into bank accounts held by co-conspirators. Typically, so-called “recruiters” solicited the account holders on social media—including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat—and offered them money in exchange for their names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security numbers, online banking information, security details, and the PINS corresponding to bank accounts at Bank of America, Capital One, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Santander, TD Bank, and Wells Fargo.
The defendants who obtained debit cards and other associated personal information from the complicit account holders include: CORVAUNTE AIKENS, 24, BRANDEL ALBERT GRAY, 25, STEPHANIE ALMODOVAR, 22, SYLVIE ANDRE, 21, KEVIN ASARE, 23, ROBERT ASOMANING, 23, VERNON AUSTIN, 26, PEDRO BARBOSA, 23, GORDON BROWNE, 20, CLARENCE CANMU, 23, JUAN CASTILLO, 24, QURAN CHALMERS, 20, AMANI COTTLE, 19, ALEXIS DANIELS, 19, JAMEL DARBY, 23, JAMIE ELLIOT MOORE, 21, TAALIMA ENGLISH, 23, CARLOS FLEMING, 24, TATYANA GARCIA, 18, CLYDE HEADLEY, 32, DONTAY JACKSON, 22, JUSTIN LAPIERRE, 23, EDDIE QUILES MALDONADO, 19, PRIEST RIVERA, 26, TERRY SANDERS, 24, ISAAC RODRIGUEZ, 19, DEMETRIUS SMITH, 26, PATRICK SOKOYA, 20, and BRANDON STRAUGHTER, 20.
Individuals known as “runners” were responsible for conducting transactions associated with the debit cards and associated bank accounts, including depositing the counterfeit checks and—once the funds become available—quickly withdrawing the money through ATMs, money orders, point of sale transactions, and cash-back purchases. Defendants who participated in the scheme in this capacity included: KEVIN ASARE, GORDON BROWNE, JUAN CASTILLO, ALEXIS DANIELS, JAMIE ELLIOT MOORE, EDDIE QUILES MALDONADO, TERRY SANDERS, BRENDON SARFO, BRYAN SARFO, and DEMETRIUS SMITH.
As part of the scheme, SMITH also acted as an “enforcer” and was tasked with protecting the group and enacting retribution for perceived transgressions against its members. In at least one instance, in May 2016, SMITH, working with BEST, coordinated and carried out the robbery of an individual who was thought to have withheld money from the group.
In total, the defendants deposited more than $2.5 million in counterfeit checks and withdrew more than $1 million from the associated accounts. Additionally, the defendants used more than 650 accounts to further their scheme.
The indictments are the result of a joint investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau and the NYPD, including the 121st Precinct, Staten Island Gangs, Staten Island Narcotics, and Grand Larceny Division.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Asset Forfeiture Unit has also filed civil papers against the indicted defendants seeking the forfeiture of illegal proceeds gained through the alleged crimes, totaling $1,029,863.88.