Leader of Million-Dollar Felony Lane Gang Sentenced to More Than 15 Years in Prison
|U.S. Attorney’s Office March 19, 2014|
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that the leader of the Felony Lane Gang conspiracy was sentenced to 188 months in prison.
According to the United States Attorney, on March 18, 2014, U.S. District Senior Judge William Caldwell sentenced Travis J. Russ for his leadership role in a car break-in and bank fraud crew that stole more than a million dollars in the five years it was in operation. Testimony presented at Russ’s sentencing showed that the crew stole millions of dollars from banks using stolen checks and identification. At the sentencing, Russ was identified as the leader of the group of thieves. Although they were only caught in the fall of 2012, Russ was implicated in committing this scheme over five years and victimizing over 250 people in the course of his fraud scheme, dubbed the Felony Lane Gang.
The Felony Lane Gang is a group of thieves based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that travels across the United States stealing identities and checkbooks from unattended cars (smash and grabs). With the stolen checkbooks and driver’s licenses, the gang cashes checks using the drive-through lane of banks. The lane farthest from video cameras and tellers has been dubbed the “felony lane” because of the ease with which false identities can be used to cash checks.
In December 2012, a grand jury returned a four-count indictment charging 10 people with conspiracy to commit fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. All those who were charged entered guilty pleas, and the majority of them have been sentenced:
- Travis J. Russ, age 32, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida—identified as the leader and sentenced to 188 months in prison;
- Sylvester Joseph, age 26, of Derrfield, Florida—identified as a leader and pending sentencing;
- Jarrett Hobbs, age 31, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida—identified as a leader and pending sentencing;
- Khiante Thompson, age 20, Florida—sentenced to 14 months in prison;
- Phillip Etienne, age 31, of Margate, Florida—46 months in prison;
- Willie L. Ogiste, age 35, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida—pending sentencing;
- Teresa L. Brimhall, age 45, of Oakland Park, Florida—18 months in prison;
- April Ainsworth, age 26, of Richmond, Texas—36 months in prison;
- Colleen Shelly, age 49, of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida—11 months in prison; and
- Wendy Snyder-Lucas, age 31, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida—11 months in prison.
The 10 persons charged in this indictment struck Pennsylvania from August to October 2012. During that time, they broke into and/or stole the identities of more than 100 people. In addition, the group targeted state parks where victims left purses, wallets, and checkbooks in their cars while using the recreation facilities. The smash and grabs occurred at approximately 25 different state parks and recreation centers in and around Central Pennsylvania.
This group used stolen checks and identification to obtain funds from banks and credit unions. According to the indictment, a conspirator, disguised as the account holder, used the drive-through lane at the account holder’s bank, submitted to the teller a forged check with the stolen identification of the victim, and received the funds. Through this process, these conspirators successfully compromised numerous accounts and stole tens of thousands of dollars in funds from the victims.
This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), HSI’s Bulk Cash Smuggling Center, the United States Secret Service, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and other state and local investigative agencies. The prosecutor assigned to the case is Assistant United States Attorney Michael A. Consiglio.