BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Baton Rouge man has been arrested and charged with racketeering after being accused of stealing more than 300 identities and $5 million in a nation-wide financial fraud scheme. Attorney General James D. "Buddy" Caldwell says many of the identities stolen are those of children.
Donald Lonnell Batiste, 24, of Baton Rouge, is charged with using his Baton Rouge-based credit-repair company to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity, including theft, identity theft and money laundering. Batiste is accused of defrauding hundreds of individuals, in addition to financial institutions and automobile dealerships across the United States.
According to the Attorney General's office, millions of dollars in fraudulent purchases were made through his illegal scheme.
"Through this bogus company, hundreds of social security numbers were stolen and then sold to customers who were trying to legitimately improve their credit and obtain loans," Attorney General Caldwell said. "As a result, millions of dollars have been illegally squandered in the form of bank loans, automobile purchases and credit lines on clothing and jewelry."
According to officials, Batiste provided bogus "credit repair" services for a fee through his company, Best, Inc., to individuals with poor credit. As part of the service, Batiste sold Credit Profile Numbers, or CPNs, which he described as nine-digit numbers similar to social security numbers that could be used to assist customers in obtaining lines of credit.
Upon receipt of a CPN, customers were instructed to insert the CPN in the section of the loan or credit card application that requested a Social Security number in order to be approved for the line of credit. Many victims of Batiste's fraud claimed they were convinced that his business was legitimate based upon receipt of their new credit cards.
In reality, the CPNs Batiste sold to his customers were the active Social Security numbers of hundreds of individuals across the nation, according to information obtained during the investigation.
Batiste is accused of purchasing more than 300 stolen Social Security numbers for around $75 each from an online supplier. He then allegedly turned around and sold them to clients as CPNs for between $130 and $500. According to Caldwell, many of the social security numbers belonged to children.
"Through our investigation, we found that many of the Social Security numbers were stolen from children. When we reached out to the victims' parents, they had absolutely no clue that their kid's identity had been stolen," Caldwell said.
Batiste is also accused of conspiring with at least 13 professional forgers who created fraudulent Social Security cards, bank statements, utility bills and tax documents. The fraudulent Social Security cards, used as proof of identification, displayed the stolen Social Security numbers and names of specific clients. Batiste paid $10 for the fraudulent cards, which he sold at a cost of $25 each to various clients around the country, according to the Attorney General.
In yet another facet of his elaborate fraud scheme, the investigation revealed Batiste allegedly advertised that he had partnered with various financial institutions to offer guaranteed unsecured lines of credit. In exchange for the so-called lines of credit, which ranged in amounts from $20,000 to $500,000,
The investigation shows Batiste allegedly required an advance fee. Victims paid advance fees from $1,200 to $4,000, but they would never receive the line of credit that Batiste promised. According to investigators, Batiste refused to return the advance fees to clients and discontinued communication with the victims after the advance fees were issued to him. In one case, a minister of an Ohio church paid Batiste $4,000 for a half-million dollar line of credit for his church, according to the Attorney General.
Over the course of Batiste's criminal activity, more than 50 vehicles were purchased causing more than $1 million in funded automobile loans. Stolen Social Security numbers were also used to submit hundreds of online applications causing more than $3 million in pre-approved automobile loans. Investigators also discovered more than $1.2 million was disbursed on other services, including credit lines at clothing and jewelry stores, credits cards from various banks and cellular phone purchases.
Batiste was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and charged with felony racketeering and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit racketeering. If convicted, he faces up to 75 years in prison.
The Duluth, Georgia, Police Department and Shaker Heights, Ohio, Police Department worked with Attorney General Caldwell's Office on the investigation.
Attorney General Caldwell said the investigation into the fraudulent activity is ongoing, and additional arrests are likely.
Also, the Attorney General's Office ordered Batiste to cease and desist from doing business as a credit-repair services organization and from advertising credit-repair services.
Additionally, Attorney General Caldwell's Public Protection Division provided Batiste with a Notice of Unfair Trade Practice, stating that Batiste is in violation of the state's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.