A St. Paul man has admitted to being part of group from the Twin Cities whose identity theft, bank fraud and money laundering activities covered more than a dozen states and earned the suspects at least $2 million.
Kevin T. Martin, 45, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in St. Paul to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft for his role in the ring that victimized hundreds of people, along with stores and banks, from 2006 through December 2011.
Martin faces up to 30 years in prison on the bank fraud count and a minimum of two years in prison on the identity theft charge.
In court Wednesday, Martin admitted that he and others used stolen driver’s license and bank account numbers from hundreds of unsuspecting individuals to create counterfeit checks and fraudulent identification documents. They would pilfer financial information and identities from cars, businesses, trash cans and mail boxes, and obtained some information from bank employees.
Martin admitted that the checks were passed at stores to buy expensive merchandise that was subsequently returned for cash. The counterfeit checks were also passed at banks, where Martin and the others deposited the checks into victims’ accounts and then made withdrawals from those same accounts.
Some of the counterfeit checks were drawn on accounts at U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, American Bank of St. Paul, Affinity Plus Credit Union, Healtheast Employees Credit Union, Unity One Credit Union and Western Bank.
Ten other individuals have previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the fraud. On Sept. 29, 2011, Lee Vang, 32, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and aggravated identity theft. She admitted using bogus checks to buy items at stores in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota and Illinois. The goods were returned for cash, and the proceeds were split among Vang and her cohorts.
On July 20, 2011, Brianna M. Darwin, 26, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty to the same counts. Melissa J. Beaman, 36, of St. Louis Park; Majorie M. Neely, 50, of Minneapolis; Frances E. Jones, 41, recently of Superior, Wis.; Christeena J. Barker, 45, of Coon Rapids; Jamie H. Branson, 45, of St. Paul; Darryl A. Bryant, 54, of St. Paul; Jacqueline Cleveland, 54, of Bloomington; and Ginger L. Halliburton, 45, of North St. Paul, have each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Patricia G. Pnewski, 51, of South St. Paul, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
Steven Maxwell, 44, of St. Paul; Russell Royals, 60, of Minneapolis; Desmon Burks, 37, of St. Paul; and Donyea Collins, 27, of St. Paul, have pleaded not guilty to their charges and are awaiting trial in August.
As a group, the defendants have prior convictions ranging from theft by swindle to identity theft, assault, drugs, forgeries and receiving stolen property.