MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Seven Minnesota residents were indicted for allegedly stealing more than $1 million in a consumer fraud ring that specialized in taking information such as Social Security numbers and using it to write counterfeit checks and collect fraudulent tax refunds.
The alleged operation targeted at least 15 financial institutions and gas station and drugstore chains across Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1w2mnUC ).
According to court documents, federal and state authorities say the ring operated under a Mafia-style hierarchy, with a "captain" directing runners who carried out various acts of fraud at banks or businesses.
They said the fraud typically began with the theft of a consumer's identifying information, such as a Social Security number or birth certificate. The ring then used it to obtain documents such as a driver's license that would enable them to open a bank account and draw money by passing counterfeit checks.
Authorities said members were adept at spotting weak links in banking practices and able to easily obtain printing equipment and paper stocks to create legitimate looking checks.
Those indicted Thursday were: Christopher Lindsey, of Richfield; Eric Childs, of Minneapolis; Quentin Durr, of Minneapolis; Joanetta Robinson, of St. Paul; Tramaine Smith, of Robbinsdale; Monta Davis, of St. Paul, and Nicole Ashton, of Minneapolis.
One of the leaders, Lindsey, is accused of creating false documents using check-printing software on his home computer and printer, according to the indictment against him. He had at least 20,000 stolen checks that had already been negotiated under the guise of legitimate transactions, documents show. Additionally, the indictment says, he was involved in submitting more than 40 fraudulent tax claims for refunds totaling more than $270,000.
U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said the indictments represent the tip of a much larger operation.
"Victims of identity theft suffer profound and devastating consequences, and it often takes years to realize the full impact on their financial lives," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lola Velazquez-Aguilu in Minneapolis. "In putting a stop to those who choose to do harm in this way, we hope to send a strong message of deterrence.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com