U.S. Attorney's Office
Southern District of Texas
(713) 567-9000
January 21, 2015

Former Title Company Employee Heads to Prison in Bank Fraud Conspiracy

HOUSTON—Harris County resident Maria Eliza Garza has been ordered to prison following her conviction in conspiring to defraud seven different Houston-area banks or more than $2 million in 2007 and 2008, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Garza pleaded guilty Sept. 4, 2013.

Today, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, who accepted the guilty plea, handed Garza an 18-month sentence to be followed by three years of supervised release. At the hearing, the court noted that Garza was an important player in the scheme and further ordered her to pay $2.078 million in restitution.

As outlined in documents filed with the court and admitted by Garza during her guilty plea, she and a co-conspirator agreed to carry out a check kiting scheme that targeted seven different financial institutions in the Houston area. While the co-conspirator allegedly devised the scheme which used multiple bank accounts held in the name of title companies he controlled, Garza admitted she assisted by discussing which bank accounts needed money, preparing checks to sign and depositing signed checks at the banks.

Garza, of Houston, admitted as part of her plea that she helped carry out the scheme from at least January 2007 through June 2008. To do so, Garza prepared checks drawn on the title companies’ accounts. The co-conspirator signed the checks and both knew the accounts lacked sufficient funds to cover the checks. Garza deposited the checks into other accounts controlled by the co-conspirator, which artificially inflated the account balances. They would then write additional checks using the artificially inflated balances and deposit them into either the original issuing account or other accounts controlled by the co-conspirator.

Garza also admitted she and conducted the scheme to artificially inflate the account balances and place the funds at her co-conspirator’s disposal to use as interest-free loans and lines of credit. They continued to carry out the scheme even after three of the banks discovered the kiting activity and shut down the relevant accounts. When the scheme finally collapsed in June 2008, the total loss to the affected banks was $2,099,65.72.

Garza was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI with assistance from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and police departments in Webster and Friendswood. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pearson is prosecuting the case.

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