SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, April 27, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Three Georgia residents, accused of running an interstate criminal fraud scheme and preying on vulnerable individuals including Utahns to facilitate their crimes, are charged in a 28-count federal complaint unsealed Friday.
Malik Wright, 22, Tony Hutchinson, 22, and Joseph D. Jackson, 22, all of Atlanta, are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, 15 counts of possession of counterfeit securities, and 12 counts of aggravated identity theft in the complaint, said a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Utah Monday.
“These serious allegations outline a troubling scenario; out-of-state suspects recruited vulnerable adults into their plan that targeted Utah financial institutions for fraud,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said. “Rest assured, during Utah’s stay at home directive, my office and our partners continue our work to keep Utah safe.”
The complaint alleges the defendants traveled from Atlanta to various states, including Utah, in rental cars, the news release said. They obtained bank account numbers and bank routing information for checking accounts for several businesses, including stealing checks from the mail. Jackson and other conspirators used the stolen information to make counterfeit checks that were drawn against the victim businesses’ accounts, the statement said.
Jackson directed Wright and Hutchinson to the location of homeless shelters. Wright and Hutchinson then targeted homeless people, who had government-issued identification cards, to act as check cashers of the counterfeit checks, the complaint alleges.
“Once Wright and Hutchinson identified viable check cashers, conspirators, including Jackson, made counterfeit checks payable to the check cashers,” the news release said. “Wright and Hutchinson took the check cashers to a Walmart and purchased clothing for them to change into so they would not appear to be homeless individuals, according to the complaint. After getting new clothes, the check cashers were driven to locations where the counterfeit checks were negotiated.”
According to the complaint, on Dec. 10, 2019, the defendants attempted to cash seven checks totaling $13,860.95 at various Zions Bank branches drawn on the account of a Utah business. As a result of these efforts, the bank lost $11,882.73. A day later, the defendants attempted to cash seven checks totaling $11,882.51 at various Zions Bank branches. Six of the checks were cashed, causing a $9,893.10 to Zions Bank.
Law enforcement officers stopped Wright and Hutchinson on Dec. 11, 2019 after employees at a Layton branch of Zions Bank alerted police that an individual was in the bank attempting to cash a fraudulent check, the news release said. The suspect fled the bank and got into a Silver GMC Yukon. Officers were able to find the vehicle and conduct a traffic stop. Wright and Hutchinson were in the front seats of the vehicle.
“The individual who went into the bank was interviewed and told officers that earlier in the day, Wright and Hutchinson approached him near the homeless shelter, flashed a large amount of cash, and asked him if he wanted to make some money,” the news release said. “Wright and Hutchinson drove the individual to Layton and told him he would be given checks with his name on them. He said he would go into banks, cash the checks, and give the money to Hutchinson. He would then receive a small portion of the money back.”
At the time of the traffic stop, Wright and Hutchinson were in possession of 15 counterfeit checks purporting to be drawn on numerous actual business accounts. According to the complaint, two other homeless men passed fraudulent checks in Utah on behalf of Wright, Hutchinson, and Jackson on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11, 2019.
The complaint alleges Wright, Hutchinson, and Jackson are part of a group that travels around the country running bank fraud schemes that prey on homeless and vulnerable individuals to cash checks for them. According to the complaint, they traveled in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and other states to achieve the goals of the conspiracy.
Wright and Hutchinson are in custody in Utah. Jackson was arrested recently in Georgia and has an appearance in federal court in Atlanta Monday. Wright and Hutchinson have detention hearings Tuesday afternoon.
The potential maximum penalty for the conspiracy to commit bank fraud is 30 years in prison. Each of the possession of counterfeit securities counts has a potential maximum penalty of 10 years. Aggravated identity theft counts have mandatory minimum two-year penalties that run consecutive to the sentence for any other counts.
Postal inspectors from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and officers with the Layton Police Department are investigating the case.