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California man pleads guilty to $1.2M financial fraud scheme after HSI-led investigation

Fraud, Bribery & CorruptionCalifornia man pleads guilty to $1.2M financial fraud scheme after HSI-led investigation

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A convicted felon from Orange County who used Instagram to teach his followers how to defraud banks pleaded guilty May 30 to conspiring with a bank employee and others to commit a check fraud scheme in which they sought $1.2 million.

Meshach Samuels, 26, of Placentia, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and two counts of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.

“This scheme defrauded financial institutions and a program designed to help people in need with the sole purpose of enriching greedy criminals,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles acting Special Agent in Charge Eddy Wang. “The El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force will work tirelessly to ensure that financial crimes do not go unpunished.”

According to his plea agreement, from May 2021 to March 2022, Samuels urged his Instagram followers to join his Telegram chat groups, where — for fees up to thousands of dollars — he would provide instructions on how to recruit accomplices and commit check fraud to steal money from banks.

Samuels and his accomplices created fraudulent checks drawn on victims’ accounts, frequently using stolen information from a bank teller and other sources. Samuels’ co-conspirators, aided and abetted by Samuels, deposited the fraudulent checks into third-party accounts.

Once the check amounts were credited to third-party accounts, Samuels and his co-conspirators fraudulently withdrew money in amounts below $10,000 to avoid triggering bank scrutiny. The corrupt bank teller was paid a portion of the cash the conspirators obtained from negotiating fraudulent checks.

The check fraud scheme attempted to obtain at least approximately $1.2 million and caused actual losses of at least $400,000.

Samuels also admitted in his plea agreement that he participated in a scheme to defraud the California Employment Development Department by submitting fraudulent applications for pandemic-related unemployment insurance that contained stolen identity information. The applications included information from individuals who lived outside California, were deceased, or otherwise were ineligible for unemployment insurance. Members of the scheme provided the California Employment Development Department with a set of common mailing addresses they controlled for multiple applications.

After the department approved the fraudulent applications and disbursed the pandemic benefits to debit accounts, Samuels and his co-conspirators used the debit cards to withdraw cash at ATMs.

In total, Samuels caused at least $14,250 in actual losses to the California Employment Development Department.

Samuels, whose criminal history includes felony convictions in Florida for aggravated battery on a law enforcement official with an enhancement for attempted murder, admitted to unlawfully possessing firearms and ammunition. During an August 2021 traffic stop in Costa Mesa, police officers found a firearm and ammunition concealed on his person. In March 2022, federal agents searched Samuels’ residence and seized five firearms and ammunition.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney scheduled a sentencing hearing for Oct. 23, when Samuels will face a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison for the bank fraud conspiracy count and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for each count of illegally possessing firearms and ammunition.

In a related case, Samuels’ former girlfriend Sasha Lizette Jimenez, 26, pleaded guilty on May 22 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud for running the Employment Development Department fraud scheme in which Samuels participated. Jimenez, who was the conspiracy’s bookkeeper, caused the issuance of at least $2.8 million in fraudulent unemployment insurance benefit debit cards. At least $2.3 million was withdrawn from the debit cards. Carney has scheduled an Oct.30 sentencing hearing for Jimenez.

The investigation into this scheme was conducted by the Los Angeles El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force, a multiagency task force led by HSI that includes federal and state investigators focused on financial crimes in Southern California. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration also participated in this investigation. The Costa Mesa Police Department, the Inglewood Police Department, the Placentia Police Department, the New York City Police Department, and the Miami Beach Police Department provided assistance.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rachel N. Agress of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering and Racketeering Section and David Y. Pi of the Major Frauds Section are prosecuting Samuels.

Agress is prosecuting Jimenez.

Members of the public are encouraged to report fraud through the HSI Tip Line at 866-DHS-2423 (866-347-2423). The HSI Tip Line is manned 24 hours a day.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Learn more about HSI LA’s mission on Twitter @HSILosAngeles.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity.

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