Federal investigators say they smashed a national fraud ring based in South Jersey that used counterfeit stimulus checks to swindle more than $320,000 from banks before the financial institutions caught on.
The ringleaders used the funds to buy used cars and pay for rent between April and October 2020, said U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.
The Department of Justice has charged 14 people with conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Among those charged are Justin Ezeiruaku, 23, of Berlin; Torri Pedro, 24, of Sicklerville: Kassan Knight, 23, of Newark; and Akume Ehoggi, 25, of Glassboro. Their lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Law enforcement agents say they learned of the fraud after spotting posts on social media that sought to recruit participants. The alleged leaders created counterfeit checks and enlisted co-conspirators from Pennsylvania, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas to share their personal information so new accounts could be created. Counterfeit checks were then deposited in those accounts. The ringleaders allegedly withdrew funds before the banks could determine that the checks were fake.
On May 1, Knight posted a “story” to his Instagram account stating “gang with me @jayyybandzzz_” referring to Ezeiruaku, according to documents. Knight allegedly posted a video referring to bread while standing at an ATM at a drive-through bank. Knight also posted a Bank of America receipt for $4,210. It was enough to trigger an investigation.
Ezeiruaku allegedly bought a 2013 Mercedes Benz CLS 550 4M and a 2018 Dodge Charger R/T with some of the proceeds, documents allege.
Investigators determined that the ring deposited more than 164 counterfeit U.S. Treasury Economic Impact Payment checks into 51 different Bank of America accounts.
A conviction on a bank fraud conspiracy charge is punishable by a sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.