Ga. woman sentenced to more than 18 years in federal prison for complex fraud scheme
Federal authorities secured at least one conviction of an individual orchestrating a complex fraud scheme that could have impacted your dealership or finance company.
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for district of South Carolina, Quinae Shamyra Stephens, of Douglasville, Ga., was sentenced last week to more than 18 years in federal prison after she was convicted by a jury for multiple charges relating to a multi-state identity theft and fraud ring she was running with her son.
Officials explained Stephens was sentenced after being convicted for:
—Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud
—Aggravated identity theft
—Access device fraud
—Interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle
—Felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition
Prosecutors said evidence presented to the court showed that sometime before late August 2021, after abandoning a stolen U-Haul van nearly half a dozen states away from where it was due to be returned, Stephens decided to enlist her son, Deandre Copes, also of Douglasville, on a multi-state criminal journey to Florida.
With a loaded semi-automatic handgun in her waistband, officials said Stephens travelled down the East Coast in a second stolen U-Haul van stocked with dozens of fraudulently obtained identities and the equipment necessary to steal more identities, make fake credit cards and print bogus checks.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office pointed out that Stephens was prohibited from possessing the firearm and ammunition due to four state felony convictions for fraud-related crimes, and she was on probation for two of these offenses when she committed the crimes in this case.
Officials indicated Stephens was ultimately stopped by members of the Latta Police Department due to Stephens’s suspicious behavior when she stopped near a bank in Latta, S.C. They said a search of the van revealed more than a dozen identification documents, including several with Stephens’s picture in various names.
Police also found a device for re-encoding credit cards with different account information and more than 25 debit and credit cards, most in the name of individuals other than Stephens or her son.
Further forensics investigation by the Secret Service revealed that Stephens would download instructional material from the dark web related to credit card fraud and identity theft, and used software form the dark web to procure personally identifiable information. The laptop also contained instructional material and files that could be used to create fake banking websites to steal account information.
“Identity theft is a threat to every citizen, and the personal information of its victims can live on the dark web forever. The nearly two-decade federal prison sentence this Office sought and received showcases just how seriously we take these crimes,” U.S. Attorney Adair Boroughs said in the news release.
“Stephens’s conduct here was especially heinous. She was a four-time felon who enlisted her son in a multi-state fraud scheme involving stolen vehicles, false identities, the dark web, obstruction of justice, and a loaded weapon. I want to especially thank our local and federal partners who worked tirelessly to ensure the jury conviction and sentence in this case,” Boroughs continued.
According to the news release, the court rejected Stephens’ attempts to use a sovereign citizen defense, which asserts that federal courts lack jurisdiction over individuals. The court acknowledged this was a frivolous defense that has been rejected throughout the country.
United States District Judge Sherri Lydon sentenced Stephens to 224 months in federal prison, to be followed by a five-year term of court-ordered supervision. There is no parole in the federal system.
Stephens was also ordered to pay restitution to her victims. Stephens’ son, who testified at Stephens’ trial, was previously sentenced to time served after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.
“This case originated due to great police work by the Latta Police Department in identifying suspicious activity being conducted by the defendants in this case,” said John Hirt, Special Agent in Charge of the Columbia Field Office for the U.S. Secret Service. “We appreciate that the Latta Police Department then included the U.S. Secret Service in their investigation. I commend the diligence and hard work of the Secret Service personnel involved in this investigation.
“I also commend the great work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office from the District of South Carolina in prosecuting this case. The sentence given in this case exemplifies that the U.S. Government takes the crime of identity theft seriously, and we will not tolerate people that lie, cheat and steal,” Hirt added.
At her sentencing, the news release mentioned Stephens received sentencing enhancements for being a leader in the criminal enterprise and for obstruction of justice.
The court also heard evidence that Stephens fraudulently obtained several Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in her name, and in the names of others. PPP loans consists of more than $640 billion in forgivable government-backed loans to small businesses for payroll, mortgage interest, rent and utilities as a result of COVID-19.
“The defendant in the case receiving this sentence is a testament to what partnerships can accomplish: local and federal agencies working together for a common goal to protect innocent victims and bring wrongdoers to justice,” said Zane Bryant, interim chief for the Latta Police Department.