A group of criminals recruited New Jersey postal service employees to steal federal COVID-19 stimulus checks and paid high school students to help cash them, authorities said.
The defendants -- who were associates of a group calling itself “the Members” -- recruited U.S. Postal Service employees to steal checks, checkbooks, debit cards, and credit cards from the mail in exchange for cash, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
They then forged the signatures of the account holders and made the checks payable to high school students and others who’d given them access to their accounts, also in exchange for cash, Carpenito said.
Three of the defendants -- Tashon Ragan of Hillside and Jahaad Flip of Newark, both 21, and Jeffrey Bennett, 26, of Irvington – deposited the forged checks online and at various ATMs throughout New Jersey, then withdrew money before the banks noticed, the U.S. attorney said.
Bennett also used the stolen credit cards to buy gift cards or Apple products, which he then resold to generate additional proceeds from the scheme, Carpenito said.
The proceeds were split among Bennett, Flip, Ragan and Janel Blackman, 41, also of Newark, who worked for the Postal Service, he said.
All four are charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
- Ragan and Flip were charged with illegally cashing the counterfeit Economic Impact Payment (EIP) checks;
- Bennett and Ragan were charged with aggravated identity theft.
Carpenito credited postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, special agents with the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General special agents with IRS – Criminal Investigation and special agents with the Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) with the investigation leading to the arrests.
He also thanked police from Summit, Newark, South Orange, Little Falls, New Providence and Piscataway.
Handling the case for the government are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Fayer and Elaine K. Lou of Carpenito’s Criminal Division in Newark.
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