Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy announced that 48 people were indicted today on charges including first-degree racketeering in connection with 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.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained the indictment on April 21 from an Atlantic County grand jury as a result of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Casino Gaming Bureau. The defendants allegedly targeted business accounts at JP Morgan Chase Bank, stealing more than $570,000 from 27 business bank accounts in two schemes carried out between February 2011 and August 2012. The State Police investigation began after bank investigators detected fraudulent activity involving funds being withdrawn by wire transfers and cash advances at Atlantic City casinos.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 investigation led to a prior indictment in 2013 charging 23 defendants in connection with the first scheme. Seven of those defendants who have remained fugitives are charged again in this superseding indictment.
The new indictment charges all 48 defendants with first-degree racketeering, which carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, including a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Two alleged ringleaders in the scheme are charged: Andrew Henry, 40, of Bayside, N.Y., and Alexandria Smith, 29, of Brooklyn, N.Y. Henry faces additional charges of first-degree conspiracy, first-degree money laundering and second-degree theft by deception. Smith faces additional charges of conspiracy, money laundering and theft by deception, all in the second degree. The other 46 defendants face additional charges of third-degree conspiracy, theft and money laundering.
Two other ringleaders, Johnny Cobb, 33, of Jamaica, N.Y., and Nurlin Wright, 37, of Brooklyn, N.Y., were indicted in 2013 in connection with the first scheme. Cobb and Wright each pleaded guilty to conspiracy and racketeering charges and each man was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2014. As leaders, Henry and Smith – along with Cobb and Wright – allegedly recruited people into the schemes, including some who impersonated owners/signers of legitimate business bank accounts and others, called “bodies,” who opened fraudulent accounts in their own names and withdrew stolen funds.
“These defendants allegedly carried out two massive identity theft schemes, but they miscalculated in thinking they could hide their large cash withdrawals at the casinos, where such transactions are commonplace,” said Acting Attorney General Lougy. “Once the bank detected suspicious account activity in Atlantic City, members of the State Police and Division of Criminal Justice who are assigned to the casinos skillfully uncovered these elaborate schemes and charged the perpetrators.”
“Identity theft is a constant threat in this age of electronic banking, and losses can mount quickly, as this case illustrates,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge banks and their clients to be vigilant and immediately report suspicious activity to the state. We have the expertise to investigate sophisticated financial crimes and bring white collar criminals such as these to justice.”
“These defendants gambled against the State Police Casino Gaming Bureau and they lost big. Now the payoff they are facing is a state prison sentence,’” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Their fraudulent scheme was bought down through a collective effort by the NJSP Financial Crimes Squad and the Division of Criminal Justice.”
Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher presented the case to the Atlantic County grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, Casino Prosecutions Unit. Bureau Chief Jill Mayer and Deputy Bureau Chief Andrew Johns supervised the case for the Division of Criminal Justice.
The indictment stems from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Casino Gaming Bureau, Special Investigations Unit, Financial Crimes Squad. After receiving information from JP Morgan Chase Bank regarding fraudulent transactions, the lead detective for the State Police, Detective Sgt. 1st Class 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.
The defendants targeted business bank accounts at JP Morgan Chase Bank, stealing over $275,000 from 14 accounts between February and September 2011. Later they again targeted business accounts at JP Morgan Chase from April to August 2012, stealing over $295,000 from 13 accounts. Henry and Smith allegedly acted as leaders of the schemes – with Cobb and Wright – financing, organizing and managing the subordinate members. Henry allegedly obtained confidential identifying information on victim bank accounts and supplied money used to open the bogus bank accounts that were used in the first scheme.
The first scheme worked in the following manner. The leaders 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, the leaders would transfer funds from the legitimate 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 April 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.