Feds charge six defendants with stealing checks meant for public defenders

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have charged six people with allegedly engaging in a brazen fraud scheme to steal checks meant to reimburse public defenders.

The six defendants were charged in two separate indictments with fraudulently obtaining reimbursements for indigent legal services paid for by the US Treasury. The Justice Department says these are the first charges in an ongoing criminal investigation that has identified over $1 million stolen since 2021 from funds meant to reimburse public defenders.

The larger of the two alleged frauds yielded more than $125,000 for the accused perpetrators, who allegedly stole a public defender’s identity to complete the theft. Prosecutors say 58-year-old Ada Tavarez, of the Bronx, produced fraudulent identification documents impersonating a federal defender and presented the bogus ID, as well as a fake email address, at a bank to successfully open an account. At that point, she allegedly attempted to deposit a check for $125,386.81 meant to reimburse the attorney she was purportedly impersonating, complete with a forged endorsement signature.

Prosecutors say Tavarez was helped by two younger men, 28-year-old Markel Washington of the Bronx and 29-year-old Tyquan Robinson of East Orange, New Jersey. They say Washington made phone calls to attempt to reverse a hold put on the check by the bank and had access to the account; further, when authorities executed a search warrant on Washington’s computer, they found multiple instances of the same image seen on Tavarez’s sham New Jersey driver’s license.

Robinson, meanwhile, listed his personal phone number as the fake email account’s recovery number, and when police searched his iCloud account, they found a wealth of personal information connected to the attorney Tavarez allegedly impersonated.

Prosecutors requested that Robinson be remanded without bail due to a history of firearm convictions. Robinson was arrested in 2015 on a firearm possession charge and sentenced to 42 months in prison. Later that year, after cops responded to a call of shots fired, they executed a search warrant on his residence and found cash, an “imitation pistol,” a taser, and counterfeit checks. He was convicted on forgery and weapons possession charges and sentenced to two years in prison.

While on parole, in 2020 Robinson was caught on camera firing a gun in broad daylight near a bus stop in East New York, Brooklyn. He pleaded guilty to possession of ammunition and was sentenced to time served; he is still on supervised release.

“No condition or combination of conditions will properly assure the safety of the community or the defendant’s return to court if he were released on bail,” wrote Assistant US Attorney James R. Simmons in the bail application.

In a separate indictment filed Wednesday, 27-year-old Nicholas Barton of Brooklyn and 26-year-old Richard Reid of Manhattan were hit with fraud charges for similarly stealing a check meant for a public defender. Their alleged fraud was smaller, at a little under $15,000, and after depositing the phony check the defendants allegedly withdrew cash, spent their gains on shopping and restaurants, and booked flight tickets. A third, unnamed co-defendant remains at large.

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