Georgia man recruited homeless people to carry out bank fraud scam, feds say

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A Georgia man accused of exploiting homeless people as part of a multi-state bank fraud scheme could be headed to prison, federal authorities say.

Prosecutors said Michael Williams, 26, and three others actively recruited unhoused people to cash bogus business checks at banks across Rhode Island in exchange for cash. The East Point, Georgia, man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island.

Williams allegedly also carried out the check cashing scheme in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine.

“Once a person agreed to cash a check, Williams and his co-conspirators ... allegedly created a counterfeit check made payable to the individual and then drove him or her to a bank to cash it,” prosecutors said in a news release. “The checks were generally in the amount of $2,000 or more.”

The individuals were often paid around $100 per check for their help, the release states.

In all, prosecutors said Williams and the other men involved — Cortavious Benford, 26, of Atlanta; Jalen Ronald Stanford, 28, of East Point; and Austin Weaver, 31, of Decatur — tried to cash more than $677,000 worth of counterfeit checks in New England between October 2018 and February 2021.

It was during that time frame that investigators said several homeless people had been arrested at local banks for trying to cash bad checks. Many “reported similar patterns of being approached by one or more males in Providence, [Rhode Island]” and being offered money to cash the checks, according to federal authorities.

In one instance, a man told police that Williams and Benford drove him to a bank and threatened to harm him if he didn’t come back with the full amount of the bogus check. The men were arrested February 5 after the homeless individual identified them as the ones who provided him with the fake check, prosecutors said.

Williams and Benford were found with $12,000 cash, and a search of a home they were using in Providence turned up “a computer, which had a program used to design and print checks, a printer and a blank check stock,” the release reads. Investigators also found several stolen checks and $5,000 cash stuffed in an envelope.

Banks are estimated to have lost $480,000 in the scheme.

Williams is set to be sentenced in September, prosecutors said. The others charged in the case are awaiting trial.

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