NEWARK, N.J. – Four people were arrested today for their roles in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, including soliciting U.S. Postal Service (USPS) employees to steal check books and credit cards from the mail, depositing fraudulent checks, including pandemic relief checks, and using credit cards without authorization, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Jeffrey Bennett, 26, of Irvington, New Jersey; Tashon Ragan, 21, of Hillside, New Jersey; Jahaad Flip, 21, and Janel Blackman, 41, both of Newark, are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Ragan and Flip are also charged with one count of passing fictitious obligations, namely counterfeit Economic Impact Payment (EIP) checks. Bennett and Ragan are also charged with one count each of aggravated identity theft. All four defendants are scheduled to appear this afternoon via videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
From February 2019 to May 2020, a group that referred to themselves as the “Members,” and their associates, including Bennett, Flip, and Ragan, conspired to solicit and did solicit USPS employees, including Blackman, to steal U.S. mail containing checks, checkbooks, debit cards, and credit cards in exchange for cash. Once they received stolen checks, Bennett, Flip, Ragan, and others, fraudulently forged the signatures of the accountholders and negotiated the checks by making them payable to individuals, some of whom were New Jersey high school students, who had given the Members and their associates access to their accounts, also in exchange for cash. Bennett, Flip, and Ragan then attempted to and did deposit the fraudulent checks online and at various bank ATMs throughout New Jersey and later withdrew funds from the bank accounts before the victim banks could discover the fraud and decline the checks. Bennett also used the stolen credit cards to purchase gift cards or Apple products, which he then resold to generate additional proceeds from the scheme. Bennett, Flip, Ragan, and Blackman split the proceeds of the fraud among themselves.
Ragan and Flip are also charged with depositing thousands of dollars of counterfeit EIP checks purportedly issued pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act authorized EIP payments structured as one-time refundable tax credits to certain eligible taxpayers of $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for married couples filing jointly, and up to $500 for each qualifying child.
The conspiracy charge is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison. The passing fictitious obligations charge is punishable by a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison. The aggravated identity theft charge is punishable by a mandatory sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed. The bank fraud conspiracy also carries a fine of up to $1 million. All other charges are punishable by a maximum $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge James Buthorn; special agents with the U.S. Postal Service – Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Matthew Modafferi, Northeast Area Field Office; special agents with IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez; and special agents with the Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Andrew McKay, with the investigation leading to today’s arrests. He also thanked the Summit Police Department, the New Providence Police Department, the Piscataway Police Department, the Newark Police Department, the South Orange Police Department, and the Little Falls Police Department for their assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Fayer of the Criminal Division and Elaine K. Lou of the Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.
The charges and allegations in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.