A Union County man admitted recruiting postal service employees to steal federal COVID stimulus checks and then paying high school students to help cash them, authorities said.
Tashon Ragan, 21, of Hillside was among a group of thieves associated with a group called “The Members” who paid US Postal Service employees in cash to steal credit cards and blank checkbooks from the mail, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig said.
They then “forged the signatures of the accountholders and negotiated the checks by making them payable to individuals,” Honig said.
Some were New Jersey high school students who’d given Ragan and his conspirators access to their accounts, also in exchange for cash, she said.
Ragan and his accomplices also created counterfeit checks, including counterfeit pandemic relief checks, the U.S. attorney said.
The crew deposited the forged checks online and at various ATMs throughout New Jersey, then withdrew money before the banks noticed, she said.
All told, they stole or tried to steal $280,000, Honig said.
Ragan took a deal from the government rather than go to trial, pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud via videoconference before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton in Newark.
Wigenton scheduled sentencing for Sept. 20.
Honig credited postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, special agents with the USPS’ 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 guilty plea, secured by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Fayer and Elaine K. Lou of Carpenito’s Criminal Division in Newark.
She also thanked police from Summit, Newark, South Orange, Little Falls, New Providence and Piscataway.
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