GOSHEN – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced on Friday, February 26, 2016, the conviction of ringleader Tyrone “Reece” Lee, 29, for running an identity-theft ring that stole over $457,000 from customers of Wachovia Bank (now Wells Fargo) in Newburgh, N.Y.
Following a trial in Orange County Court, the jury convicted Lee of all 15 Counts charged, including Grand Larceny and Identity Theft. Lee, who is already serving a sentence of 4 ½ to 9 years in prison for operating a similar identity-theft scheme in Westchester County, faces up to 20 years in prison.
“Today’s conviction shows that those who steal New Yorkers’ personal financial information will be held accountable,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We will do everything that we can to protect innocent businesses and their customers from the growing problem of identity theft.”
“This defendant with the help of his co-conspirator penetrated the security of the banks that we depend upon for the safety of our finances. His criminal conduct undermined the integrity of our financial system and robbed the victims of the security they seek from our financial institutions,” said New York State Department of Financial Service Acting Superintendent Maria Vullo. “We thank the Attorney General for aggressively prosecuting this case and addressing the serious problem of identity theft within the State of New York.”
During the course of trial, the prosecutors presented evidence that from June 2010 to August 2011, Lee was the leader of a bank fraud ring that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the accounts of Wachovia Bank customers.
The evidence at trial included testimony by Lee’s accomplice, Nadia Figueroa, recorded telephone calls of Lee impersonating a Wachovia customer, and a text message exchanged between Lee and Figueroa comparing the fraud detection procedures of Wachovia to that of Chase Bank.
The evidence at trial showed that Lee initiated his scheme by recruiting his girlfriend, Figueroa, to obtain a position as a bank teller at a Wachovia branch located at 41 North Plank Road in Newburgh, New York.
Once she was hired at the Newburgh branch, Lee directed Figueroa on how and what customer data to steal, instructing her to search for common names and to copy specific information including account numbers, social security numbers and signature cards. Many of the accounts victimized were selected by a practice known as “name surfing,” wherein Figueroa illegally searched Wachovia’s customer database for common names, states of residence, and high account balances.
Figueroa testified that at Lee’s direction, during the approximately seven weeks of her employment, Figueroa accessed the personal identification information of over 200 Wachovia bank account holders without conducting any financial transactions regarding those accounts. Figueroa then gave this information to Lee, who in turn enlisted other co-conspirators to withdraw funds from the compromised accounts. Lee obtained fraudulent driver’s licenses containing the pictures of other co-conspirators and the names of compromised bank account holders, which were then used at the out-of-state bank branches to convince bank tellers to process fraudulent withdraws from the accounts of customers.
Using the stolen account information and forged licenses, Lee withdrew funds from 77 customer accounts at branches located in Nassau County and New York City, as well as in Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. In total, Lee and his co-conspirators stole approximately $457,980 from Wachovia between July 2010 and August 2011.
Among the 123 different Wachovia branches whose customers were victims of identity theft are:
- 3584 Long Beach Road, Oceanside, N.Y.
- 3709 Riverdale Avenue, Bronx, N.Y.
- 1076 Yonkers Avenue, Yonkers, N.Y.
- 339 Hemingway Avenue, East Haven, C.T.
- 150 Elm Street, Westfield, N.J.
- 13140 U.S. Highway 301, Riverview, F.L.
Today, before the Honorable Nicholas De Rosa in Orange County Curt, the jury found Lee guilty of one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a Class C felony), 13 Counts of Identity Theft in the First Degree (a Class D felony), and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a Class E felony). Lee is scheduled to be sentenced on April 6, 2016 and faces up to 20 years in state prison.
In September 2014, Lee and Figueroa were arrested and charged by the Attorney General’s Office, along with three other individuals, for operating a similar identity-theft ring in Westchester County from July 2012 to June 2014.
As in Orange County, Lee orchestrated the hiring of corrupt bank tellers and also directed them to target customers with common names and over $50,000 in their accounts. These bank tellers, including Figueroa, fraudulently accessed and stole personal information, including account numbers and Social Security numbers, from hundreds of customers at Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and TD Bank. Lee arranged for other ring members to impersonate bank account holders and withdrew over $850,000 at bank branches in Westchester County, New York City and Long Island, as well as Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Earlier this year, Lee pleaded guilty to the entire 37-count Westchester County indictment against him, including multiple counts of Grand Larceny in the Second and Third Degrees and Identity Theft in the First Degree, and was sentenced to 4 ½ to 9 years in state prison. Figueroa pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, and was sentenced to 2 to 6 years in prison. Their three charged co-conspirators in the Westchester scheme also pleaded guilty.
These prosecutions were the culmination of a long-term investigation by the Attorney General’s Crime Proceeds Strike Force, including court-authorized wiretaps and search warrants.