Edgewood woman gets 6 years in jail for bank fraud, identity theft

An Edgewood woman who prosecutors say was the ringleader of a bank fraud and identity theft scheme was sentenced in federal court last week to six years in prison for her role in the conspiracy.

According to the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar sentenced Latesha Brown, 33, on Sept. 7 to six years in prison, followed by seven years of supervised release, for bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to obtain fraudulent loans from credit unions where Brown worked.

Bredar also ordered Brown, who pleaded guilty to the charges, to pay restitution of $124,000.

According to her plea agreement, from September 2004 through August 2010, Brown was at the center of a conspiracy that involved a group of friends and family, including her boyfriend, Christopher Houston, and her brother, Donald Brown, who sought fraudulent loans, using falsely-created, modified or stolen identities, from credit unions where Latesha Brown was employed.

The agreement states that Latesha Brown facilitated or processed the fraudulent loan applications for herself and others, including Houston and Donald Brown, accepting false paperwork and stolen materials, including forged birth certificates and pay stubs, false drivers' licenses, employment letters and vehicle invoices; misappropriated social security numbers; stolen notary stamp seals; and bank paraphernalia, such as proprietary ink stamps.

Prosecutors also said Latesha Brown processed the loan applications in a deficient manner, intentionally failing to collect all of the necessary supporting paperwork for a loan, and assisted the co-conspirators in withdrawing their ill-gotten loan funds so as to avoid detection.

From March 26, 2007 through Aug. 5, 2010, prosectors said, Latesha Brown, using either a false name and/or the stolen identification information of other individuals, applied for jobs at 33 credit unions and for membership in 29 credit unions — often reapplying to the same institution on multiple occasions with new false identities. In many instances, she also applied for loans in her own name and other names, using stolen identification information and forged documents.

The conspirators applied for their loans using false pretenses, including vehicle loans with false dealership invoices where no vehicles were to be purchased, or where the vehicle was already owned outright by a member of the conspiracy.

Latesha Brown facilitated the false vehicle loans so the conspirators received clear titles to their "financed" vehicles without liens being placed on the vehicles. The absence of the liens meant the credit unions had no collateral when the conspirators defaulted on their loans, so the credit unions were prevented from seizing the vehicle or other assets after the individuals failed to make payments on the loan. The use of the false social security numbers prevented the credit unions from tracking down the borrowers.

According to the plea agreement, Brown established a cellular telephone line exclusively for "Marybeth Wright," a fictitious former supervisor, which she, Houston and other conspirators used to receive phone calls from credit union personnel and other prospective employers seeking to confirm their prior employment history. All of the individuals involved in the scheme, including Brown, Houston and Donald Brown, listed this number on their loan applications, prosecutors said.

Houston, 34, also of Edgewood, and Donald Brown, 31, of Elkton, have pleaded guilty to the bank fraud conspiracy and face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison at their sentencing hearings, scheduled for Sept. 22.

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