The alleged ringleader of a massive identity-theft ring that involved 29 others and that allegedly stole $1.3 million from the bank accounts of unsuspecting customers pleaded not guilty yesterday in federal magistrate court to conspiracy and multiple counts of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.
U.S. Magistrate Carol Sandra Moore Wells postponed a pretrial detention hearing for Miguel Bell, 34, until Nov. 2. Defense attorney Robert Gamburg requested the delay so that Bell can present his case for release on bail. Bell was arrested on Oct. 20.
The government alleged that Bell, of Philadelphia, and four accomplices obtained the names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security numbers and bank account numbers for 34 customers of Citizens, PNC, Wachovia, M & T, Provident, Sun Trust, Commerce (now TD Bank) and Sovereign banks.
The feds said that the information was then used to create phony driver's licenses so that "check runners" recruited by Bell and his associates could impersonate bank customers, cash fraudulent checks and make fraudulent withdrawals against the victims' bank accounts.
Assistant U.S. Attorney K.T. Newton said that the feds want Bell locked up pending trial. Bell's criminal record dates back to 1999 and includes guilty pleas for forgery, receipt of stolen property, criminal conspiracy, DUI and tampering with public information, according to court records.
Newton said that the case against Bell is strong:
* Three women with whom Bell had romantic relationships said that he recruited them to provide personal and bank-account information to use in his scheme, which lasted from September 2005 to November 2008
* A Philadelphia cop, responding to an accident in which Bell was involved in June 2006, recovered from Bell's rental car bogus driver's licenses and credit cards, phony checks, the location of a Citizens Bank branch in Vermont and handwritten personal information for five individuals, court papers said
* Bell's fingerprint was found on a fraudulent document left behind by a check runner at a Citizens Bank branch in Wilmington, Del., on April 25, 2007, according to the court filing.
Newton suggested that bank customers take steps to protect their personal information.