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Benjamin Bland, 41,  Richmond, Virginia, was convicted by a federal jury of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and social security fraud.

According to evidence presented at his five day trial, Bland was the owner and registered agent of a company headquartered in Richmond, Virginia that hosted a website that purported to provide individuals with a legal means to start a new credit file through the issuance of a “secondary credit number.” Bland falsely told his customers that these “secondary credit numbers” were “100% legal” and issued “by lawyers.” However, Bland had invented the term “secondary credit number,” there were no lawyers involved with his business, and the “secondary credit numbers” were actually social security numbers that had been previously issued to other individuals, predominantly children.

According to the trial evidence, one of the primary purposes of the fraud scheme was to obtain bank loans, private loans, auto loans, and lines of credit using the stolen social security numbers, counterfeit social security cards, and personal identity information (“PII”) of actual persons to create a false (improved) credit score.

The trial evidence also established that Bland obtained and sold the misappropriated social security numbers to Michael Westbrook and at least 20 others located throughout the country, whom Bland called his “affiliates.” These “affiliates” in turn sold those numbers to buyers. For an additional fee, Bland would provide fraudulent social security cards bearing the stolen number and the name of the “buyer.” Bland also provided fraudulent driver’s licenses to the “customers.” These items were provided so that “customers” could defraud banks and other lenders by drawing upon lines of credit using the stolen social security numbers.

According to the trial evidence, Bland compromised the social security numbers of at least 1,500 people during the conspiracy. The majority of the stolen social security numbers belonged to children all over the United States.

A co-conspirator, Michael Westbrook, also pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He is awaiting sentencing.

Bland faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each of the wire fraud counts and a maximum of 10 years in prison on each of the social security fraud counts. Senior U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has scheduled sentencing for July 14, 2017 at 10:00 am.

The conviction was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge Andre R. Watson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended HSI Baltimore for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lauren Perry and Aaron Zelinsky, who are prosecuting the case.

George Price, 42, a former Miami-Dade Police Department officer, was sentenced to 48 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release for his participation in a wire fraud scheme, arising out of the operation of a series of credit repair businesses.  Price previously pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez

According to court documents, Price and his co-conspirators participated in a scheme to provide false police reports to individuals operating credit repair businesses. A co-conspirator would provide Price with identifying information of credit business customers. Price would then create false police reports, using the customers’ identifying information. The police reports would falsely represent that the customers had reported to the Miami-Dade Police Department facts consistent with having been victims of identity theft.  Price would cause the false police reports to become official records of the Miami-Dade Police Department. A member of the conspiracy would cause the false police reports created by Price to be transmitted to credit reporting agencies in order to induce the removal of negative items from the credit histories of the alleged victims identified in the false police reports. Price created the false police reports in order to promote the success of the credit businesses and in return would receive payment from his co-conspirators.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and J.D. Patterson, Director, Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD), made the announcement. Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI Miami Area Corruption Task Force and MDPD Professional Compliance Bureau. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Davis.

When I spoke at the American Association of Mortgage Regulators Conference (AARMR) last week in New Orleans, I commented on the fact that, due to heightened underwriting requirements in mortgage lending, origination frauds are more distant from the file.  What does this mean?  It means that the fraud itself is occurring through third party manipulation that is virtually impossible to discover by a simple review of the mortgage documents. One of the methods I used as an example is credit manipulation. A recent guilty plea out of Miami-Dade illustrates this trend.  In this case, a Miami-Dade police officer accepted money to create false police reports reflecting that credit repair customers had reported that they were the victims of identity theft.  In such cases, negative credit reporting is blocked.  Paying $1,500 for credit repair is generally worthless.  But, couple that with a  police officer in your back pocket?  Priceless.

George Price, 42, a Miami-Dade Police Officer, Miami-Dade, Florida, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1349, an offense punishable by up to twenty years in prison. Continue Reading…