Two Arraigned in Identity Theft Scheme Targeting Emory Students
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 13, 2013|
ATLANTA—Maario Coleman and Angela Russell have been arraigned for operating a scheme to obtain thousands of dollars by stealing the identities of Emory University law and medical students and using them to apply for loans.
“The alleged actions of these two defendants demonstrates how every member of our community is vulnerable to identity theft and computer intrusions,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “The potential for causing damage to Emory students’ financial and professional futures cannot be overstated. We continue to work aggressively to combat this problem.”
Ricky Maxwell, Acting Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated, “This case illustrates the need for the law enforcement community to work together in order to stay ahead of today’s very capable and tech savvy individuals that are able to do much harm to many unsuspecting victims. The FBI’s Atlanta Cyber Task Force applauds the quick response of the Emory University Police Department and its continued assistance throughout this investigation.”
“The teamwork of Emory Police investigators, Emory’s University Technology Services, and school officials allowed Emory to respond quickly to reports, initiate an investigation, and take steps to prevent further fraud against our graduates,” says Emory Police Chief Craig Watson. “On behalf of the Emory Police Department, I greatly appreciate the productive partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation that has led to the arrest of these two individuals.”
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court: Coleman obtained lists of students graduating in the class of 2013 by checking university websites and attending graduation ceremonies. Coleman and Russell used that information to obtain the students’ dates of birth and Social Security numbers from online databases. The defendants then used those personal identifiers to apply for post-graduate “bar loans” and “residency loans” at Discover Bank. Bar loans are designed to pay for living expenses and exam preparation while law school graduates study for the bar exam. Similarly, residency loans assist medical school graduates with the costs of residency, relocation, and board exam review courses.
In many instances, Discover required school transcripts before it would approve and fund the loans. To satisfy this requirement, Coleman and others used the personal identifiers of the victims to obtain passwords to access Emory’s online portal and order the victims’ transcripts. The transcripts were mailed to other participants in the scheme, and Coleman then coordinated sending the transcripts to Discover. He also arranged for the loan proceeds to be deposited into bank accounts fraudulently opened in the victims’ names. After the loans were funded, other participants in the scheme obtained the funds via ATM withdrawals.
The investigation showed that the scheme began as early as May 2013 and continued until at least November 6, 2013. On that date, law enforcement officers, including federal agents, interviewed Russell regarding the scheme. Following the interview, the agents went to a second location and then returned to Russell’s residence. When they arrived, agents became alarmed by a large volume of smoke they saw rising from Russell’s apartment. After entering the apartment, the agents found Coleman and Russell inside, with fire and smoke coming from the fireplace. The agents put out the fire with an extinguisher and discovered documents and computer equipment, including hard drives and at least one laptop, all either burned in the fire, dismantled, or gouged.
To date, investigators have identified over $200,000 in false loan applications. In addition, over 100 students at Emory and other Georgia universities have had their personal information compromised. The fraud was discovered when several Emory students contacted the Emory Police Department after realizing that their personal information had been compromised. The investigation is ongoing.
The indictment charges Coleman, 27, of Decatur, Georgia, with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft, one count of computer fraud, and one count of tampering with computers and documents. Russell, 42, of Dunwoody, Georgia, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, and one count of tampering with computers and documents. Both appeared before Linda T. Walker, United States Magistrate Judge.
The bank fraud conspiracy and tampering charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The computer fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The aggravated identity theft charges carry at least one mandatory two-year consecutive sentence, in addition to any other sentence imposed. In addition, the bank fraud count carries a fine of up to $1,000,000, and the computer fraud and tampering counts each carry a fine of up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, the Court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges, and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Emory University Police Department.
Assistant United States Attorney Shanya Dingle is prosecuting the case.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF), which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it is the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory, and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state, and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions, and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants, including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
If you are a victim of identity theft, change the passwords to your online banking and other financial accounts because your information may have been stolen or acquired over the Internet.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.Pressemails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.