(WAFB) - Sixteen people, nine of which are from the Baton Rouge area, have been charged with racketeering and 89 counts of bank fraud as part of an alleged check counterfeiting operation.
Officials with the 22nd Judicial District Court say the indictments were returned on April 19 after a year-long investigation by the Slidell Police Department.
According to the report, between January and August of 2017, the 16 suspects, operating as the "BME Mafia," sought to defraud several banks, people, and government agencies, including the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office. During this time frame, 89 check for more than $140,000 were found to have been presented to various financial institutions. The suspects reportedly referred to their scheme as the "Nike game."
"The criminal acts of financial fraudsters cause enormous damage to unsuspecting individuals and banks," said District Attorney Warren Montgomery. "Check counterfeiting has reached epidemic levels as thieves become more sophisticated. We hope that this indictment shows the depth of our commitment to use all the tools in our arsenal, including racketeering laws, to fully prosecute these unlawful operations."
"White-collar crime is a costly crime that costs Americans over $300 billion a year," said Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal. "Cooperative endeavors from multiple different law enforcement agencies brought down this criminal enterprise."
The accused ringleader of the operation, Willie Mack Cauley, 40, of Slidell, had his bond set at $1 million. Cauley is a rapper who runs BlakMaze Entertainment, and moved to St. Tammany Parish after the August 2016 flooding. He's accused of creating/providing counterfeit checks and identification to other members of the operation. It's also believed he was directing the operation and received most of the profits.
Cauley allegedly enlisted the help of other people in Baton Rouge to distribute the counterfeit checks and present them to various stores and agencies. Cauley is charged with racketeering and 89 counts of bank fraud.
Officials say at least 16 counterfeit checks were given to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, totaling more than $30,000. Another 15 checks were given to other victims in St. Tammany and Washington parishes, in the amount of more than $15,000. All losses were reimbursed by various banks.
"Although, the Sheriff's Office did not suffer any financial loss on behalf of the taxpayers, my staff has put additional controls in place to prevent future fraud attempts," said St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith. "We would encourage all residents to keep a close watch on their personal and business accounts. My office, along with our local and federal partners, will aggressively pursue anyone or any group looking to take advantage of our citizens."
Bond was set at $200,000 for the remaining suspects. Those charged are as follows:
- Teineka White, 43, of Sumter, South Carolina, accused of accessing account information as a retail vendor for Bank of America and sending it to Cauley via text: racketeering and 24 counts of bank fraud
- Kierra Dunbar, 20, of Slidell, accused of taking photos of legitimate customer checks at Ross Dress for Less and Rack Room Shoes, where she worked at the time, and providing them to Cauley for counterfeiting purposes: racketeering and 21 counts of bank fraud
- Victor Harris, 34, of Jacksonville, Florida, accused of giving a legitimate check, drawn on the account of Diamond Sharp Contracting Group, to Cauley, who then made counterfeit copies: racketeering and 11 counts of bank fraud
- Frederick Selders, 36, of Baton Rouge, accused of serving as a recruiter who enlisted individuals, known as “mules,” to cash the counterfeit checks and share in the profits: racketeering and seven counts of bank fraud
- Kelvin Carter, 25, of Gonzales, accused recruiter: racketeering and nine counts of bank fraud
- Marcus Nalls, 27, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter: racketeering and five counts of bank fraud
- Tasha Variste, 31, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter: racketeering and four counts of bank fraud
- Jonquayle McCoy, 24, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter: racketeering and three counts of bank fraud
- Larry Womack, 23, of Slidell, accused recruiter: racketeering and nine counts of bank fraud
- Jonathan White, 40, of Biloxi, accused recruiter: racketeering and eight counts of bank fraud
- Robert Hatch, 26, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter: racketeering and one count of bank fraud
- Steven Stanley, 27, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter: racketeering and five counts of bank fraud
- Loreal Dunbar, 33, of Baker, recruiter: racketeering and six counts of bank fraud
- Derrick Variste, 33, of Baton Rouge, recruiter: racketeering and 17 counts of bank fraud
- Dareyan Byrd, 39, of Dothan, Alabama, recruiter: racketeering and two counts of bank fraud