Six charged in transnational money laundering operation

Published 3:19 pm Friday, July 31, 2020

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TYLER, Texas – U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox announced on Friday that six individuals have been arrested pursuant to a federal indictment alleging money laundering violations.

“The threat posed by transnational organized crime is continuing to increase,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox.  “Of particular concern to us is the financial exploitation of older Americans by foreign-based crime rings.  These villains are located thousands of miles away, but they can target seniors here at home through believable scams designed to rob them of hard-earned savings.  Our district will be relentless in the fight against not only these transnational criminal organizations, but also their extensive networks of associates and money mules laundering the stolen funds.  We also plan to develop a new initiative with our law enforcement partners to ramp up our enforcement efforts on this front.”

A federal grand jury returned the two-count indictment on June 18, 2020, charging a money laundering conspiracy and operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business.  The individuals charged include:

Jeremy Christopher Jones, 45, of Kansas City, Kansas;

John Arthur Fuss, 69, of Wartrace, Tennessee;

Perry Lewis Crenshaw, Jr., 26, of Pensacola, Florida;

Mary Elizabeth Booth, a/k/a Mary Beaman, 39, of Hammond, Louisiana;

Ronnie Duane Booth, 37, of Hammond, Louisiana; and

Tracey Lynn Brookshier, 51, of Tyler, Texas.

All six defendants were arrested in other districts and then later made court appearances in the Eastern District of Texas.  Jones was arrested in the District of Kansas on June 29, 2020, and arraigned on July 29, 2020.  Fuss was arrested on July 1, 2020, in the Eastern District of Tennessee and arraigned on July 23, 2020.  Crenshaw was arrested in the Northern District of Florida on June 30, 2020, and arraigned on July 21, 2020.  Beaman, Booth, and Brookshire were all arrested on July 6, 2020, in the Eastern District of Louisiana and arraigned on July 22, 2020.

According to the indictment, the defendants engaged in a money laundering conspiracy from July 2012 to September 2019.  As part of the operation, co-conspirators allegedly employed by call centers fraudulently induced victims, some of whom were located in the Eastern District of Texas, to transfer funds to the defendants and other co-conspirators.  These callers allegedly made unsolicited calls to individuals in the United States and employed various schemes that directly targeted or predominantly affected elder victims.

The indictment alleges that the schemes included impersonation of Social Security Administration and IRS/Department of Treasury officials.  Callers allegedly claimed that the victim’s Social Security number had been suspended because of suspicious activity and could be reactivated by payment of some amount.  Other callers allegedly claimed that victims owed back taxes and were required to satisfy the fictional debt to avoid threatened legal action.  Some callers allegedly posed as employees of mortgage companies.  Victims, who included borrowers with mortgages backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Federal Housing Administration, were promised lower rates through fictitious loan modifications and, in some instances, threatened with foreclosure if they did not agree to pay for the loan modification.

The indictment further alleges that victims wired funds through money services businesses to locations in the Eastern District of Texas and elsewhere.  The indictment charges that the defendants’ money laundering conspiracy involved more than 4,000 victim wire transfers that totaled over $3.2 million.  The defendants and co-conspirators receiving these illicit proceeds are alleged to have retained a percentage of the victim funds for their services.

The indictment also charges that the defendants created fictitious companies and then deposited victim funds into bank accounts opened in the names of these fictitious companies.  The defendants are alleged to have made cash withdrawals of the fraudulently-obtained money and transferred some of the proceeds to other accounts, some of which were located outside of the United States.

Jones, Beaman, Booth, and Brookshier were separately charged with operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business in the State of Texas.

“I’m very proud of my IRS service and I take these impersonation scams very personally.  I am disgusted by attempts to impersonate IRS employees and steal money from the taxpaying public,” stated Brian Payne, Special Agent in Charge of the Tampa Field Office of IRS Criminal Investigation. “Our office will continue to use the full force of the financial skills of our agents to identify and investigate these impactful crimes with our law enforcement partners in order to improve confidence in the taxpayers’ contacts with the IRS and its public servants.”

“Over the last several years, American taxpayers have been subjected to unprecedented attempts to fraudulently obtain money by individuals impersonating IRS employees,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.  “TIGTA and our law enforcement partners will do everything within our power to ensure that those involved in the impersonation of IRS employees are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Creating a scheme that enriches the defendants while defrauding distressed and vulnerable HUD insured borrowers jeopardizes the many legitimate processes in place to protect a person’s mortgage,” said HUD Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge, Nick Nelson.  “I want to thank the tireless efforts of our law enforcement partners and the U. S. Attorney’s Office, whose collaboration made these charges possible.  The HUD Office of Inspector General will continue to aggressively prosecute these type of cases.”

“As reflected by the indictment, the United States Secret Service in Indianapolis — along with our federal, state and local partners across America — remains dedicated to the pursuit and apprehension of those fraudsters who seek to cheat their way to riches by preying upon some of our most vulnerable citizens,” said Eric Reed, Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis Field Office.  “I commend the excellent work of all the prosecutors and agents who have worked on this matter, and I am especially appreciative of the successful teamwork demonstrated by the many different law enforcement agencies who contributed to this investigation.  The Secret Service will continue to prioritize cases that have economic impact to the community and those that involve such ruthless schemes.”

If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in federal prison on the money laundering conspiracy charge and up to 5 years on the charge of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.  Any proceeds are also subject to forfeiture.

In October 2017, President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law.  The EAPPA’s purpose is to increase the federal government’s focus on preventing elder abuse and exploitation.  Subsequently, the Department of Justice launched the Elder Justice Initiative (EJI).  Through the EJI, the Department has participated in hundreds of criminal and civil enforcement actions involving misconduct that targeted vulnerable seniors.  This past March, the Department announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 400 defendants in a nationwide sweep.  The Department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country.  The EJI website contains useful information, including educational resources about prevalent financial scams so you can guard against them

If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).  This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps.  Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis.  Reporting is the first step.  Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses.  The hotline is staffed 7 days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.

This case is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General, and the United States Secret Service.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Coan.

An indictment is not evidence of guilt.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.