|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a Brooklyn, N.Y., man was sentenced to state prison today for his role in orchestrating an elaborate bank fraud scheme in which numerous defendants impersonated holders of legitimate business bank accounts in order to steal more than half a million dollars from the accounts, withdrawing most of the funds at casinos in Atlantic City. Two of the other main defendants in the case were sentenced to prison in February.
Nurlin Wright, 35, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was sentenced today to 15 years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Albert J. Garofolo in Atlantic County. Wright pleaded guilty on Jan. 28 to racketeering and conspiracy, both in the second degree. He was sentenced to eight years on the racketeering charge and a consecutive seven years on the conspiracy charge.
Wright led the scheme with co-defendant, Johnny Cobb, 32, of Jamaica, N.Y. A third defendant, Avery Jackson, 26, of Jamaica, N.Y., recruited others to participate in the scheme. Wright and Jackson were sentenced in February by Superior Court Judge Michael A. Donio. Cobb pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy, both in the second degree, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Jackson pleaded guilty to second-degree racketeering and third-degree conspiracy. He was sentenced to nine years in prison on the racketeering charge, with a concurrent four-year sentence on the conspiracy charge.
Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher prosecuted the defendants and handled the sentencing hearings for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, Casino Prosecutions Unit. The three men and 20 other defendants were charged in a June 27, 2013 indictment stemming from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Casino Investigations Bureau, Financial Crimes Unit.
“This was a huge bank fraud scheme in which the defendants attempted to use the casinos to launder the stolen funds. This case highlights the ever-present threat of identity theft and the need for financial institutions, banking clients and law enforcement to remain extremely vigilant,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Through cases such as this one, we are working to deter this type of fraud and help the financial services industry to maintain security and protect the public.”
“When we identified suspicious transactions in the Atlantic City casinos, State Police detectives diligently followed the leads to expose this elaborate bank fraud,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “These lengthy prison sentences are the result of the skillful efforts of those detectives and our prosecuting attorney.”
“The scope and complexity of this case and similar crimes can be daunting, but working together, we consistently show that law enforcement is up to the challenge,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “I hope this significant sentence proves to be a deterrent to those who consider financial crimes to be a low-risk venture.”
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.
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 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.
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 and was sentenced on Feb. 21 to five years in state prison. Charges are pending against most of the remaining 19 defendants.