|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that three New York men have pleaded guilty to orchestrating an elaborate bank fraud scheme in which numerous defendants impersonated holders of legitimate business bank accounts in order to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the accounts, withdrawing most of the funds at casinos in Atlantic City.
These men pleaded guilty in Superior Court in Atlantic County, one today and two earlier this month:
- Johnny Cobb, 31, of Jamaica, N.Y., pleaded guilty on Jan. 7 before Judge Michael A. Donio to racketeering and conspiracy, both in the second degree. Under the plea deal, he faces a 15-year prison sentence, including eight years for the racketeering charge and a consecutive seven years for the conspiracy charge.
- Avery Jackson, 26, of Jamaica, N.Y., pleaded guilty on Jan. 17 before Judge Donio to second-degree racketeering and third-degree conspiracy. He faces a nine-year prison sentence on the racketeering charge, with a concurrent four-year sentence on the conspiracy charge.
- Nurlin Wright, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty today, Jan. 28, before Judge Abert J. Garofolo to racketeering and conspiracy, both in the second degree. He faces a 15-year prison sentence, including eight years for the racketeering charge and a consecutive seven years for the conspiracy charge.
Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, Casino Prosecutions Unit. The three men and 20 other alleged members of the scheme were charged in a June 27, 2013 indictment resulting from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Casino Investigations Bureau.
“Criminals view the Atlantic City casinos as a good place to launder money because of the large sums that change hands every day, but they also are a good place to get caught, because of the excellent work of the members of the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice assigned to the casinos,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This scheme came to light when suspicious transactions were detected in Atlantic City, and it is ending with the leaders in prison.”
“By aggressively prosecuting white collar criminals, we are protecting individuals, businesses and banks from fraud,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to work closely with the State Police on these complex financial cases.”
“Our detectives can be proud that their hard work has resulted in guilty pleas from the ringleaders of this sophisticated attempt to defraud bank account holders,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “This case is another example of the collaborative efforts by law enforcement to investigate this type of criminal activity.”
The defendants targeted business accounts at JP Morgan Chase Bank, stealing more than $275,000 from 14 business bank accounts between February and September 2011. Later they again targeted business bank accounts at JP Morgan Chase between May and August 2012, stealing more than $290,000. Cobb, Jackson and Wright pleaded guilty to racketeering – a charge contained in the indictment – in connection with the first round of thefts, and they pleaded guilty to accusations charging them with conspiracy in connection with the later thefts.
The State Police investigation began after bank investigators detected fraudulent activity involving funds being withdrawn by wire transfers and cash advances at Atlantic City casinos. In pleading guilty, Cobb and Jackson admitted they were leaders of the bank fraud scheme. Jackson admitted that he recruited others to participate in the scheme.
The scheme worked in the following manner. Cobb, Wright and Jackson would recruit a person to open a fraudulent small business account with JP Morgan Chase Bank. This person, called “a body,” would use his or her real name and identification to open the account, which would be opened under a bogus business name. At the same time or soon after, another person – who was instructed to dress and act “corporate” and who was given fraudulent photo identification in the name of an owner/signer of a legitimate JP Morgan Chase business account – would be added on as a joint owner of the new fraudulent bank account. This person was called the “add-on.” The add-on enabled the defendants to establish a link between the targeted bank account and the fraudulent account.
Once the accounts were linked, someone posed as the owner of the legitimate account to transfer funds from that account to the fraudulent account by a telephone or online transaction. The funds would then be withdrawn from the fraudulent account by wiring them to Atlantic City casinos for pick-up by one or more “bodies,” or the “bodies” would be transported to Atlantic City casinos with credit cards from the fraudulent accounts and would be instructed to make Global Cash Advance withdrawals of the funds. The “bodies” and “add-ons” allegedly received a smaller cut of the stolen funds for their efforts.
In the second round of thefts, between May and August 2012, the defendants again posed as account holders to gain access to legitimate business bank accounts at JP Morgan Chase, but this time they requested additional debit/credit cards on the accounts in the name of co-conspirators, which the co-conspirators used to make Global Cash Access withdrawals in Atlantic City.
After receiving information from JP Morgan Chase Bank regarding fraudulent transactions, the lead detective for the State Police, Detective Sgt. Christopher Larsen, conducted a far-reaching investigation in which, among other things, he reviewed bank account records, Global Cash Access records and Atlantic City casino surveillance videos to identify the defendants.
Cobb and Jackson are scheduled to be sentenced next month, and Wright, in April
One of the defendants who acted as an “add-on,” Okee Wade, 37, of Brooklyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty on Jan. 16 to second-degree racketeering. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to five years in state prison when he is sentenced on Feb. 21. Charges are pending against the remaining 19 defendants.
The indictment charged four defendants – Cobb, Jackson, Joshua Mazyck, 24, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Raymond Springs, 50, of Reading, Pa. – in a second scheme in which they allegedly cashed counterfeit checks against legitimate accounts at Wells Fargo Bank and TD Bank. The defendants allegedly cashed or attempted to cash more than $45,000 in counterfeit checks. Those checks included five counterfeit checks totaling more than $14,000 that Jackson cashed against the Ocean County Department of Corrections Inmate Commissary account at Wells Fargo Bank. Jackson received a check from the commissary while jailed in Ocean County on unrelated forgery and theft charges, and he used that check to create the five counterfeit checks. All of the counterfeit checks charged in the indictment were uncovered in an investigation by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, which began when the Ocean County Department of Corrections reported the counterfeit checks drawn on its account.
Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher is prosecuting the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, Casino Prosecutions Unit. The lead detective was Detective Sgt. Christopher Larsen of the New Jersey State Police Casino Investigations Bureau, Financial Crimes Unit. Detective Mark Malinowski of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office investigated the counterfeit check scheme.
A full list of the defendants is posted with the June 27, 2013 press release on the indictment at www.njpublicsafety.com. The indictment is merely an accusation and the remaining defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.