Man who moved stolen vehicles in Baltimore for sale in Africa gets 9 years in prison

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large container ship in a dock at antwerp harbor (logos and brandnames systematically removed)

BALTIMORE, MD – U.S. District Judge George L. Russell, III sentenced Issah Mohammed, a/k/a Yissa and Ali, age 33, a citizen of Ghana previously residing in Laurel, Maryland, to nine years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud in connection with a fraud scheme in which Mohammed and his co-conspirators impersonated individual victims to remove funds from the victims’ investment accounts and for conspiracy to transport stolen motor vehicles to Africa.  Judge Russell also ordered Mohammed to pay $697,982.30 restitution.  The sentence was imposed on February 19, 2021.

Mohammed was a fugitive after he cut off his ankle monitor on February 21, 2018, and absconded, assuming the identity of another person.  On January 4, 2021, Mohammed was arrested in Sacramento, California driving a black Porsche SUV.

The sentence was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations – Baltimore; Acting Director Keith Fleming of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Baltimore Field Office; Chief Melissa R. Hyatt of the Baltimore County Police Department; and Interim Chief Hector Velez of the Prince George’s County Police Department.

According to his plea agreement, from at least January 31, 2013, through May 12, 2014, Mohammed was part of a conspiracy that acquired stolen vehicles, some of which were stolen from other states and transported to Maryland, and then shipped the stolen vehicles to Africa for sale. Members of the conspiracy in the United States would hire others to steal vehicles – with the keys – so that the vehicles could be more easily sold.  Mohammed and other members of the conspiracy: purchased the stolen vehicles from the thieves or an intermediary; arranged to store the vehicles at parking lots and other locations, known as “cooling spots”; loaded the vehicles into a shipping container; and transported the containers to a port, including the Port of Baltimore, for export to destinations including Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana.

In order to ship vehicles overseas, shipping companies are required to have valid titles for the vehicles.  As part of the scheme, Mohammed and other members of conspiracy used fraudulent title information in an effort to conceal the fact that the cars they sought to ship had been stolen.  Mohammed and other conspirators acquired false Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) and replaced the true VINs on the stolen vehicles, and they also registered businesses with the state of Maryland, and then used these businesses to create registration paperwork for the vehicles, including false bills of sale utilizing the false VINs.  In that manner, the conspirators were able to acquire or forge title(s), registration(s), and proof(s) of insurance for the vehicles to fill out the necessary paperwork so they could ship the cars overseas.  The loss for the cars, both recovered and not recovered, was over $200,000.

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As detailed in his plea agreement and other court documents, from March through November 2014, Mohammed, co-defendant Mohammed Kwaning, and other conspirators participated in a bank and wire fraud scheme in which they acquired account information of individual victims, including from investment account management firms and impersonated the victims to steal money from their accounts.

Issah Mohammed recruited individuals, including Mark Dennis, Charles Mensah, and others, who registered corporate shell entities with the state of Maryland.  The recruits set up bank accounts at multiple banking institutions in the names of these shell entities. Kwaning then either directed that the funds from the compromised accounts be wired into the bank accounts opened in the names of the shell entities or provided altered or fabricated checks from the compromised accounts to Issah Mohammed.  Mohammed then provided the checks to Mark Dennis, Charles Mensah, and the other recruits to be deposited into the shell entities’ bank accounts.  Mohammed and the recruits then withdrew or transferred the funds from the business accounts they maintained to receive the victims’ funds to other accounts the conspirators controlled before the bank discovered that the funds were from compromised accounts.

Some of the victim accounts were compromised by individuals who called investment firms pretending to be the actual account holders and were able to reset the password for the investment accounts.  Individuals also hacked the e-mails of victims and, posing as the account holders, requested funds be wired from their retirement accounts to the bank accounts of the shell corporations controlled by the conspirators.  The attempted loss during the nine months of the scheme was over $1.3 million, and the conspirators were able to withdraw over $229,000 of the stolen funds, which they then split amongst themselves.

Mohammed “Kofi” Kwaning, age 40, of Laurel, Maryland, Mark Dennis, age 33, also of Laurel, Maryland, and Charles Mensah, age 35, of the Bronx, New York, were all convicted at trial and sentenced to 121 months, 27 months and 30 months in federal prison, respectively, each followed by five years of supervised release.

Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner commended HSI Baltimore, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Baltimore County and Prince George’s County Police Departments for their work in the investigation.  Mr. Lenzner thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Judson T. Mihok and Paul E. Budlow, who prosecuted this case.