A federal judge on Monday sentenced two men to decades in prison for their roles in a $50 million bank fraud conspiracy that authorities say spanned six states and depended on employees of some of America's largest banks stealing customers' identities.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis sentenced the alleged ringleader, Julian Okeayaninneh, 44, of Colton, Calif., to 27 years in prison.
Earlier in the day, Davis sentenced Olugbenga Temidago Adeniran, 36, of New York, described as a high-level manager in the conspiracy, to 22 years in prison.
A federal jury in Minnesota convicted Okeayaninneh and Adeniran in February on multiple counts, including bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.
So far, 27 people have either pleaded guilty or been convicted in the scheme, in which customer identities were stolen, then bought and sold, and used to create phony bank and credit card accounts, apply for loans or get cash. Prosecutors say the conspiracy was carried out from 2006 through 2011 in Minnesota, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New York and Texas.
Authorities said the scheme victimized more than 500 people around the world by stealing their personal and financial information. The Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force led the investigation, dubbed Operation Starburst, which brought together investigators from local, state and federal agencies.
"Today's sentences send a clear message to those identity thieves and fraudsters who conspire with dishonest bank employees to wreak havoc on the personal finances of innocent customers," U.S. Attorney for Minnesota B. Todd Jones said in a statement.
In the statement, Louis Stephens, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Minnesota, described the operation as "a complex criminal conspiracy with an organizational hierarchy and effectiveness much like traditional organized crime."
After Okeayaninneh's arrest, authorities found more than 8,000 stolen identification documents in his storage locker, including hospital records, bank records and credit reports. Prosecutors say Adeniran used fraudulent credit cards to obtain cash from banks and buy merchandise from the Mall of America and Southdale Center.
Victims included customers of American Express, Associated Bank, Bank of America, Capital One, Guaranty Bank, JP Morgan Chase Bank, TCF Bank, US Bank, Wachovia Bank, Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo.
Online Dating Scams
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/online-romance-scams-cost-50-million-in-2011_n_1518162.html" target="_hplink">Fraudsters feigned interest</a> in lonely online romance seekers to rob victims of about $50 million last year.
Debt Collector Scams
Phony debt collection agencies <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/ftc-busts-scam-debt-collector_n_1418582.html?ref=business&ir=Business" target="_hplink">have pressured victims</a> into giving up millions of dollars. The Federal Trade Commission recently closed down two California-based <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/ftc-indian-call-center-fraud-debt-collectors_n_1289751.html" target="_hplink">companies with call centers in India</a> after they defrauded Americans out of $5 million over the past two years.
Online Marketplace Scams
Craigslist and eBay are a playground for scammers. Consumers have sent payments to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/craigslist-scams-tips-losing-money_n_1445763.html" target="_hplink">places like Nigeria </a>for items advertised online only to discover they have been scammed. Last year, Romanians pretending to be U.S. citizens put fake ads for pricey items on eBay and Craigslist, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/craigslist-scams-tips-losing-money_n_1445763.html" target="_hplink">defrauding Americans out of more than $100 million. </a>
Prize Money Scams
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/28/lottery-scam-probe-nets-2_n_1460916.html" target="_hplink">Canadian police arrested a man </a>who tried to take a $70,000 processing fee from an elderly Californian woman who believed she was going to win a $7.5 million lottery prize in April. More recently,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/17/jamaica-lottery-scam-fraud-suspects-arrested_n_1525498.html" target="_hplink"> eight Jamaican swindlers accused</a> of duping Americans in lottery scams were also arrested.
Fake charity organizations come out of the woodwork to exploit the generosity of others, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/tornado-relief-fraud-scam_n_1334853.html" target="_hplink">especially during times of disaster.</a> Most recently, an organization that claims to help disabled veterans called Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/charity-fraud-disabled-national-veterans-foundation_n_1499314.html" target="_hplink">took millions of dollars from donors</a> without spending the money on veterans.
Mortgage Foreclosure Scams
Scammers targeting struggling homeowners have offered false services to help with mortgage settlements. Mortgage foreclosure scams have shot up <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/mortgage-foreclosure-scams_n_1429805.html" target="_hplink">60 percent in 2012 as new federal programs</a> for mortgages have provided avenues for fraudsters to exploit.
Travelling Relative Scams
Scam complaints related to travelling surged right before <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/spring-break-travel-scams_n_1418954.html" target="_hplink">spring break last year. Crooks defrauded</a> grandparents out of money when their grandchildren were travelling abroad. The scammers, who find out about the travel plans from places like social media sites, pretend to be the grandchild asking for wire transfers on the phone. The scams have involved scammers pretending in an email to be a victim's travelling relative who has recently been mugged or has lost their passport.
Although there isn't much data on how often it occurs, food scams can pose a tremendous<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/food-fraud-hoax-grocery-store_n_1439995.html#s889480&title=Milk_" target="_hplink"> health risk. The chances</a> of dilution and counterfeiting increase when food is imported from other countries, and some foods like fish and olive oil are particularly prone to adulteration.
Online Prescription Drug Scams
Scammers have sold drugs to online consumers and then posed as government agents asking the buyers to pay money to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/12/online-prescription-drug-scam_n_1420776.html" target="_hplink">avoid jail time. A Texas woman </a>killed herself after being caught up in one of these drug schemes.
Credit Card Scams
Credit card breaches allow fraudsters to make charges on other peoples' cards after getting a hold of numbers. Global Payments Inc., a third party payment processing service for MasterCard and Visa, made headlines in April for reporting that over a million card numbers had been compromised from their system, <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-57407981-83/global-payments-calls-data-breach-contained/" target="_hplink">according to CNET.</a>