Four Men Sentenced in Fraud Scheme That Exploited Homeless
Four Georgia Men Sentenced in Bank Fraud Conspiracy That Exploited Providence Area Homeless
PROVIDENCE – Four Georgia men who admitted to a federal judge in Rhode Island that they participated in a scheme that exploited Providence-area homeless and transient individuals by recruiting them to cash hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of counterfeit business checks at banks in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine, have been sentenced to federal prison, announced United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.
Cortavious Benford, 27, and Michael Williams, 27, of Atlanta; Austin Weaver, 27 of Decatur; and Jalen Ronald Stanford 28, of East Point, admitted that they created counterfeit checks, generally in the amount of $2,000 or more, made payable to homeless individuals who agreed to be driven to banks in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine to cash them. These individuals were often paid approximately $100 for each check that they successfully cashed.
A United States Secret Service investigation determined that between October 2018 and February 2021, approximately $677,687 worth of counterfeit checks were presented to banks throughout the four states by members of the conspiracy, causing actual losses to financial institutions of nearly $481,000. Several homeless individuals were arrested as they attempted to cash counterfeit checks.
On February 5, 2021, Williams and Benford recruited and drove a homeless person to a Providence bank to cash a check, threatening to injure the man if he failed to provide them with all the proceeds. From inside the bank, the man pointed to a vehicle that was parked outside of the bank as containing individuals who recruited him and provided him with the counterfeit check. Providence Police located the vehicle a short distance away and arrested Williams and Benford. They were found to be in possession of $12,000 in cash.
A court-authorized search of a Providence residence that law enforcement determined the four men used when in Rhode Island resulted in the seizure of a computer which had a program used to design and print checks; a printer; blank check stock; and an envelope containing numerous stolen checks and approximately $5,000 in cash.
Weaver and Stanford were arrested on later dates.
The four men were convicted in federal court in Rhode Island on a charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Cortavious Benford was sentenced on Tuesday by U.S. District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., to 24 months in federal prison; Austin Weaver was sentenced on July 15, to 30 months of incarceration; Jalen Ronald Stanford was sentenced in June to 24 months in prison; and Michael Williams was sentenced in February to 41 months imprisonment. Each of the defendants has been ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $480.943.71 jointly and severally with each other.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lee H. Vilker.
United States Attorney Cunha thanks the Providence, RI, and Medway, MA, Police Departments for their assistance to the United States Secret Service in the investigation of this matter.