Seven members of $40 million international fraud conspiracy, which included everything from romance scams, to check fraud, to secret shopper schemes, to personal assistant work-from-home schemes, were sentenced last week in Gulfport, Miss.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, some of the seven defendants were originally romance scammers who later became involved in counterfeit check fraud. The victims of the scheme were sent counterfeit checks with mystery shopper/personal assistant instructions. The phony checks would bounce after money was transferred to various locations around the U.S. and then to Nigeria. The defrauded were then left on the hook for the amounts of the checks as well as bank fees.
The six Americans and one Nigerian were apprehended as the result of a joint investigation between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Guilty parties, Funso Hassan, 27, of Ibadan, Nigeria and Anthony Shane Jeffers, 44, of Maryville, Tennessee, were each sentenced to 10 years in prison. Ann Louise Franzen, 70, of Kiln, Mississippi; Gary Melvin Barnard, 64, of Palestine, Texas; Michele Gayle Fee, 55, of Stockton, California; Tanya Lynn Thomas, 52, of Turlock, California; and Shawn Ann White, 44, of Manteca, California, were each sentenced to the maximum for the charges: five years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr., of the Southern District of Mississippi also sentenced each defendant to three years supervised release after the prison terms, with restitution to be determined later.
Per court documents, two of the defendants (Hassan and Jeffers) admitted to conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property along with use of mail and interstate facility to distribute proceeds of a racketeering activity as part of April 12 guilty pleas. Franzen, Barnard, Fee, Thomas and White had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property at a prior date.