PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A Providence resident was sentenced today to five years in federal prison for using the stolen personal identifying information (PII) of unsuspecting individuals to defraud banks and retailers, and for fraudulently seeking more than $3.3 million dollars in small business loans earmarked for businesses impacted by the pandemic, announced United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.
Courtney Hilaire, 29, pled guilty on December 20, 2021, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, fourteen counts of wire fraud, and two counts of aggravated identity theft. He was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith to 60 months in federal prison to be followed by three years of federal supervised release.
Hilaire’s involvement in bank fraud and credit card fraud schemes was discovered by Warwick Police on July 3, 2020, when officers found Hillaire and two other men sleeping inside a stolen vehicle in the parking lot of a Warwick hotel. Inside the vehicle, officers discovered eighteen cell phones and other electronic devices; a list of identities and corresponding stolen PII; equipment used to transfer information to credit card magnetic strips; 44 counterfeit credit cards and numerous fraudulent drivers’ licenses from multiple states; and approximately $13,000 in crisp, clean $100 and $50 dollar bills.
A forensic audit of the electronic devices by Homeland Security Investigations revealed links to folders containing templates to create credit cards, fraudulent driver’s licenses, currency, and a link to lists of PII available for purchase on the “dark web.”
One month after being arrested by Warwick Police, Pawtucket Police encountered Hilaire in a rented vehicle; on this occasion, he was found to be in possession of three cell phones, nearly $3,000 in cash, and eight debit cards linked to fraudulently obtained Pennsylvania unemployment benefit accounts. A forensic audit of the cell phones revealed numerous sets of stolen PII and evidence of involvement in Small Business Administration loan fraud.
As a result of their continuing investigation into Hilaire’s fraudulent activity, Homeland Security Investigations arrested Hilaire in April 2021. During a search of his residence, agents seized $47,119 in cash; eleven cell phones and two laptop computers; and devices used to create fraudulent credit cards. When agents arrived at his residence, Hilaire was online filing a fraudulent COVID-related unemployment benefits claim with the state of Alabama. A forensic audit of the cell phones and computers found in his residence revealed that Hilaire had filed 60 fraudulent COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications with eight states, including Rhode Island, with an intended loss to the program of $3,328,695. Loans totaling $328,700 were issued.
Forensic auditors also uncovered evidence that Hilaire spent time online collaborating with and counseling other would-be fraudsters, and provided them with materials and advice on committing economic fraud.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney William J. Ferland.