Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Phishing For Love: Banking Insiders

This week in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, an indictment was unsealed against Miguel Bell, Christopher Russell, Michael Merin, Kareem Russell, and Tamika Brown for their actions in stealing more than $1 Million from Citizens Bank, PNC Bank, Wachovia Bank, M&T Bank, Provident Bank, and SunTrust Bank. Michael Levy, US Attorney in that district, brought the charges.

This entire article is a summation of the charges from the extremely detailed sixty-one page indictment.

The five were charged with the following violations:

18 U.S.C. § 371 - conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft
18 U.S.C. § 1344 - bank fraud -8 counts
18 U.S.C. § 1028A - aggravated identity theft - 34 counts
18 U.S.C. § 2 - aiding and abetting

The charges resulted from activities between September 1, 2005 and November 30, 2008.

Miguel Bell

Miguel Bell is accused of being the ringleader in the scheme, which consisted of stealing identifying information and account numbers, and then having "check runners" pose as the bank customers and cash fraudulent checks from the accounts belonging to those whose identities they were using.

Bell developed his information feed by pursuing romantic relationships with bank employees and one insurance company employee, and after gaining their trust, compelling them to provide bank information, customer account numbers, and personal identifying information including names, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers, and driver's license numbers. Bell's love interests also rented cars which he provided to the check runners in order to cash out the accounts.

Bell also required Michael Merin, Rashin Owens, and David Tunnell to recruit bank employees to provide the same information he was getting from his love interests.

Bell verified high account balances by calling the banks' automated banking telephone services.

Bell provided his check runners with fraudulent driver's licenses and to have them photographed, and also provided them with fake checks and "cheat sheets" to help them memorize their new identity. On many occasions he provided transportation and maintained cell phone contact with the check runners while they went into the banks.

Bell took the largest share of all the proceeds, and was in charge of distributing funds to others. Check runners were recruited, used for a day, and paid at the end of the day.

Christopher Russell

The indictment describes Christopher Russell as "the right hand man". Among his roles in the scheme he verified bank balances and recruited check runners, often in exchange for illegal drugs or money for illegal drugs. He accompanied check runners to be photographed for their fraudulent driver's licenses. He provided the identity cheat sheets and fraudulent checks to the check runners, and instructed them on their tasks to perform. He often provided transportation and maintained cell phone contact with the check runners. He would often receive the payout from the check runner, and then pass most of the funds to Miguel Bell for further distribution, and paid the check runners.

Kareem Russell

Kareem is described as a "middle man" in the scheme. He primarily recruited runners, and provided all the same activites as Christopher Russell, including recruiting check runners, providing them with drugs or money for drugs, escorted runners to be photographed for fraudulent drivers licenses, and provided transporation, passed funds to Miguel, and paid his check runners from the proceedings.

Michael Merin

Merin was also called a "middle man", but concentrated on recruiting bank employees in addition to some check runners. Among those recruited:

- Jon Steffon of Citizens Bank (charged elsewhere)
- Kern Haynes of Citizens Bank (charged elsewhere)
- Marcus Nabried of Citizens Bank (charged elsewhere)

Tamika Brown

Tamika Brown was partnered with Christopher Russell and accompanied him in transporting his runners for photography and for fraudulent transactions. She also was in charge of providing the runners with clothes to wear for their photographs and fraud, and for arranging the rental of cars to be used in transporting the check runners.


PNC Bank Employee Tiffany Brodie was in contact with Miguel Bell from at least September 1, 2005 until June 30, 2006, and provided at least four bank accounts and associated personal information to Bell from her customers at PNC Bank.

Tiffany's information allowed check runner James Kennedy to steal $13,050 by pretending to be one of these customers. She also rented cars for Miguel.

Citizens Bank Employee Trena Smith was in contact with Miguel Bell from at least November 1, 2005 until December 20, 2005. She provided information on thirty-seven Citizens Bank account holders, which resulted in $390,039 being stolen by check runners Ralph Guy, Jennie Hill, Priscilla Torres and others, who presented fake ids claiming to be these customers.

Citizens Bank Employee Jon Steffon was recruited by Michael Merin and provided at least fourteen sets of identity data for his customers to Michael, which were used between May 1, 2006 and July 30, 2006 to steal $100,687 from Citizens Bank via check runners. "On or about" June 10, 2006, Miguel Bell possessed hand-written person information on five Citizens Bank account holders, written by Jon STeffon and given to Merin by Steffon. He also held three false Pennsylvanie driver's licenses and two false Delaware driver's licenses in those names, as well as Citibank MasterCards and fraudulent checks in those names.

Citizens Bank Employees Jamila Hamler, Marcus Nabried, and Tamea Hill provided personal information of twenty-seven account holders to Merin between July 1, 2006 and July 30, 2006. Tamea Hill provided at least four additional identities to Elton Harris and Rashin Owens, who passed the information to Miguel Bell. These identities were passed to James Kennedy and other check runners to accomplish $213,145 in theft.

Citizens Bank Employee Kern Haynes provided sixteen accounts to Michael Merin, who then passed the information to Bell and Christopher Russell. These identities were used by check runner Eileen Comire and others to accomplish at least $98,375 in theft.

Citizens Bank Employee Regina Tolliver provided information on seven Citizens Bank account holders which was used between March 1 and November 30, 2007 by check runners Richard Maden and Eileen Comire to withdraw $181,577 using their false identities.

Citizens Bank Employee Deonda Barnett provided twelve identities used to steal $24,172 using check runner Eileen Comire and another $18,312 using check runner James Howard.

Citizens Bank Employee Clarissa Gavin provided six account holder identities, which were used by check runner Tommy Antone Murray, Eileen Comire, David TUnnell and others to cash out $70,811.

Car Dealership Recruitment

Rashin Owens and David Tunnell recruited Damoon Hosseinzadeh, an employee at the car dealership "New Concepts, Inc." to provide identity information regarding customers of the dealership. These were used to take $37,900 from Commerce Bank with David Tunnell acting as the check runner.

Insurance Company Recruitment

Colonial Penn Insurance Company employee Lisa Bryant Nelso was used to provide bank account information for persons banking at Citizens Bank, Wachovia Bank, M&T Bank, Provident Bank, and SunTrust Bank.

Ten Citizens Bank identities provided by Nelson were used by check runners to cash out $33,833.

Twenty-five Wachovia identities provided by Nelson were used by check runners to cash out $134,935.

Twelve M&T Bank account identities provided by Nelson were used by check runners to cash out $53,085.

One Provident Bank identity provided by Nelson was used to cash out $7,000.

One SunTrust identity provided by Nelson was used to cash out $2,250.

The Check Runners

There were SO MANY Check Runners, including:
Ralph Guy, Jennie Hill, Priscilla Torres, Gregory Grayson, David Tunnell, Richard Maden, Eileen Comire, and James Kennedy. The indictment actually details their involvement, claiming . . .

Ralph Guy did 37 checks on identities from Pennsylvania, Vermont, Ohio, and Michigan stealing or attempting to steal $174,046.

Jennie Hill did 24 checks on identities from Indiana, New Hampshire, Vermont, Ohio, and Michigan stealing or attempting to steadl $104,422.

Priscilla Torres did 2 checks for $9,243 on identities from Pennsylvanie and Delaware. She also was the driver for other check runners on some occasions.

Gregory Grayson did one check for $2,500 on a New Jersey identity.

James Kennedy did four checks vs. PNC Bank and twenty checks vs. Citizens Bank using at least eleven identities to steal $61,600.

Eileen Comire did at least thirty-seven checks imitating at least twenty-seven account holders to steal at least $240,599 from Wachovia Bank, and an additional $186,913 from Citizens Bank using eighty-eight fraudulent checks and twenty-one account holder identities. She also uses twenty-two checks belonging to twelve M&T account holders to steal an additional $58,135 from M & T Bank.

David Tunnell did seven transactions totalling $41,900 from Commerce Bank using two different identities, and six transactions totalling $45,100 from Citizens Bank using three identities.

Richard Maden used five Citizens Bank identities to present twenty-nine fraudulent checks totalling $97,374.

Notice of Forfeiture

These criminals stand to lose all property, real or personal, that constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the commission of such offenses - up to a value of $1,300,000.

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