The conspirators included the supervisor of a TCF Bank branch in Crystal, a teller at a Central Bank branch in Coon Rapids, a door-to-door meat salesman, and three men who used portable machines to crank out about 1,500 counterfeit checks.
Together with 25 others, they conducted a massive bank fraud operation that stole or attempted to steal more than $2 million from numerous check-cashing offices and 49 banks and credit unions in Minnesota and at least five other states.
“Today, we have taken down the largest, most sophisticated ID theft organization in Minnesota,” U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announced Tuesday.
The branch supervisor and the teller were sisters who supplied detailed check information to the criminal enterprise, along with the balance in checking accounts so the counterfeiters would know that their checks would clear. The two women no longer work for the banks, officials with TCF and Central Bank said.
The indictment named 25 people and three others were separately charged with related crimes. Arrests were made Tuesday in Minnesota, Oregon, Florida and North Dakota.
Luger called it a developing trend that local law enforcement is seeing: “Petty thieves, who normally engage in burglaries and stolen checks, have teamed up with more sophisticated former drug dealers and money launderers.”
The U.S. attorney’s office said the operation was led by Sienemah Gaye, 30, of Anoka, who was charged with 20 counts of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy and two counts of aggravated identity theft, and Finoh Sahr Fillie, 28, of Brooklyn Park, who was charged with five counts of bank fraud, and one count each of conspiracy and bank theft.
The scheme began to unfold in 2007 and continued until September of last year, involving 21 men and seven women.
Some made their first court appearances an hour before the news conference.
About 75 federal, state and local law officers from 12 agencies were involved under the auspices of the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force.
The task forced traced what appeared to be unrelated counterfeit checks passed at an array of banks back to “a large network of individuals engaging in identity theft, bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering,” according to a search warrant filed by Ryan Arnold, a special agent with the Secret Service who was assigned to the task force.
The search warrant describes extensive surveillance of individuals going in and out of banks to cash fake checks. Authorities attached GPS devices to several vehicles to track the operations.
In one case, a young woman posted an image of her first paycheck on Instagram tagged #myfirstpaycheck, where people post pictures of themselves and their first paychecks. The criminal enterprise took information from the photo to create counterfeit checks.
“My message to parents and young adults getting their first checks is do not post your information online,” Luger said.
Another man, Timothy Tillman, of Gervais, Ore., went door to door selling meat in Oregon and Minnesota. When people wrote him checks for the meat, Tillman passed the information on the checks to conspirators who created phony checks that were cashed at banks, prosecutors allege.
The enterprise was divided into three categories of criminals, which included three individuals who manufactured the checks, and 12 “recruiters” who found 10 “runners” who went into bank offices to cash the checks or deposit them into new accounts they created in their own names. In addition, there were two bank employees and the meat salesman.
Felisha Hassim 20, of Blaine, was a supervisor at the TCF Bank branch at 6830 Bass Lake Rd. in Crystal.
According to the search warrant, she told authorities she was approached at a nightclub by someone she knew as “Hustle,” whose actual name is Jeffery Dulworth Gbor Jr. She allegedly stated that Gbor told her that he knew a man who manufactures counterfeit checks and asked her to help in the scheme.
Hassim allegedly admitted to law enforcement that she provided copies of negotiated business checks to Gbor on multiple occasions.
In one case, she provided a copy of a check on the account of a dentist, and Gbor proceeded to write a counterfeit check of $7,946.20 on the dentist’s account.
In another case, Gbor texted her with a TCF Bank account number and a request to check the balance to “see how much we can do it for.”
“TCF has been cooperating with authorities in this investigation since its early stages,” Mark Goldman, a TCF senior vice president, said in a statement e-mailed to the Star Tribune on Tuesday. “The former TCF employee accused today has not worked for the bank since 2012. No TCF customers lost any money as a result of the alleged fraud.”
Prosecutors said that Annesa Hassim, 23, of Blaine, Felisha Hassim’s sister, worked as a teller at the Central Bank branch at 3575 124th Av. NW. in Coon Rapids. Larry Albert, the bank’s CEO, said she no longer worked there, but gave no further information.
Besides Gaye, Fillie and the two Hassim sisters, the others indicted by the federal grand jury were Karzil Renaldo Cannedy, 23, who is in the Sherburne County jail; James Luellying Capehart III, 31, of Brooklyn Center; Jeffery Dulwonh Gbor, 26, who is in the state prison in St. Cloud; Larry Wleah Borteh, 29, of Brooklyn Park; Anthony Tarpeh Kugmeh, 32, of Coon Rapids; Samuel Gayah Karmo, 33, of Brooklyn Park; Samba Eric Kondeh Kamara, 25, of St. Paul, Fulton Kpeneon Badio, 27, of Fargo, N.D.; Khan Z. Gbor, 23, of Columbia Heights; Prince Korboi Sumoso, 29, of Fargo; Bai Albert Kiawoin, 23, Brooklyn Park; Victor Jerry Massaly, 30, of St. Paul; Malcolm Louis Cornell, 24, of Minneapolis; Kleme Dogbo Samolu, 24, of Waterloo, Iowa; Ayesha Verneder McKinney, 26, of Atlanta; Johnson Sayonkon, 31 of Richfield; Maurice Leron Griffin, of Minneapolis; Kaela Monae Lewis, 22, of St. Paul; and Owen Mensohn Gborplay, 25, who also is in the St. Cloud prison. One name was blacked out; Luger said that person was not in custody.
Three other individuals separately charged were Lovette Marion Dejoachim, 30; Adrienne Unique Bates, 25; and Jessica Romley Clark, 27.