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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: wire fraud

Convicted conman pleads guilty to fraud

A conman who went to prison for duping people out of $124,000 for a fraudulent cattle farm investment is likely headed back here after pleading guilty to a similar scheme in North Idaho.

James Andrew Harris, 44, pleaded guilty to wire fraud Monday and faces up to 20 years in prison when he's sentenced Nov. 5.

Harris admitted to stealing about $108,000 from a Florida resident whom he'd solicited as an investor in the beef industry.

Harris told the victim he had a “connection” who helped restaurants, supermarkets and other purchasers of beef finance their purchases, according to a news release by the U.S. Attorney's Office. “Harris represented that there was a great deal of money to be made in financing the purchases and encouraged the individual to participate.”

Harris created the email account ibuybeef@yahoo.com to assist in the fraud, which occurred between July 2010 and June 2011.

The fraud began less than three months after Harris was released from federal prison after being sentenced to 27 months for the cattle investment fraud. Harris paid those investors with counterfeit checks, according to a plea agreement.
  

Spokane man convicted of $700k fraud

A federal jury convicted a Spokane man of 20 felonies Thursday for a scheme that cost a Coeur d'Alene woman her high-end riverside home.

Samuel Thomas Geren Jones, 31, faces up to 20 years in prison for each of 19 wire fraud counts when he's sentenced Oct. 5, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He's allowed to stay out of jail until sentencing.

Jones was convicted of the wire fraud and one count of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises after a seven-day trial in U.S. District Court.

Jones' co-defendant, Travis “T.J.” Sneed, a former Washington legislative candidate and aide to Jim West, was sentenced last August to about five years in prison.

Sneed, (pictured) who had solicited fraudulent letters of support to present at his sentencing, also is to be on probation for three years, perform 320 hours of community service and pay about $732,000 in restitution. That’s the amount of money loaned to Sneed using victim Dawn Forest’s home as collateral.

“I’ll never see any of it,” Forest said at Sneed's sentencing.

Sneed, 29, is serving his 63-month sentence at a federal prison in Colordao. He testified at Jones' trial.

The scheme developed when Forest allowed Sneed and Jones, who were in a romantic relationship, to live in the basement of her home on South Canal Street along the Spokane River and take out a loan on her mortgage. Forest said she learned her home was being foreclosed by reading the newspaper. Sneed and Jones also bilked three people of about $165,000 by selling them products via the Internet that they never received.

Jones and Sneed were indicted in July 2010.

“This jury's verdict sends the strong message that those who bilk trusting investors will be caught and punished,” Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said in a prepared statement.  “In these difficult economic times, fraud schemes pose an even greater threat to our communities.  I commend the hard and thorough work of FBI Special Agent Bryant Gunnerson, prosecutor Nancy Cook and the many others who brought these two men to justice.”

Man gets 3 years for $2.2 mil Ponzi scam

Dale Edward Lowell just needed a bit more money. A few dollars here and there - anything to help him make another investment in a stock market he was sure he could figure out. It never worked, but, in his mind, success was just another investment away.

That’s what the former North Idaho real estate agent told a federal judge Wednesday when he was sentenced to three years in prison for a Ponzi scheme that collected more than $2 million from duped investors in the Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene area. Lowell met many of the investors while a pianist for a Sandpoint church.

Read the rest of my story here.

Valley woman, 84, scammed of $1,500

An elderly Spokane Valley woman lost nearly $1,500 this year to a con man who claimed she'd won a new car.

The Spokane Valley Police Department is reminding people to talk with their elderly parents about phone, mail and email scams after the 84-year-old woman's daughter reported the fraud to Crime Check and said the thief calls her mother daily seeking more money.

The victim sent $1,475 to an address in Jamaica in March after a caller claiming to represent Morgan Stanley International told her she had won a new car and only had to pay them sales tax to collect it, Sgt. Dave Reagan said.

Reagan said such swindles “are nearly impossible to investigates and prosecute” because the culprits typically live outside the country.

He said people with elderly relatives “should insist that elders discuss with them any contest, lottery or other prize offers before sending any money for “taxes,”  “border fees” or other claims of money owed.”

Con artist sought fake support letters

A former Washington legislative candidate and convicted conman will spend five years in prison for scheme that bilked a Coeur d’Alene woman out of her high-end riverside home and drew the wrath of a federal judge.

“I think the bottom line in all reality is that you’re a con artist,” U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said to Travis “T.J.” Sneed (pictured) before sentencing him Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene to 63 months in prison. “You say one thing and you do something different. And it’s not a one time situation.”

Sneed’s sentence was higher than a plea agreement originally called for because federal prosecutors discovered a scheme by Sneed to solicit fraudulent character-witness statements to submit at sentencing. Sneed offered another man $1 for each letter and said he wanted 150 letters, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Cook.

“When we leave this world, the only thing that we really take with us is our reputation - good or bad,” Lodge told Sneed. “If you were to die today you would be seen as a con artist.”

Sneed, 28, pleaded guilty in March to three counts of wire fraud and one count of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises.

Codefendant Samuel Thomas Geren Jones is awaiting trial on similar charges.

Sneed is to be on probation for three years, perform 320 hours in community service and pay about $732,000 in restitution. That’s the amount of money loaned to Sneed using victim Dawn Forest’s home as collateral.

“I’ll never see any of it,” Forest said. But she takes comfort in knowing that “for five-plus years he won’t be able to do this to anybody else.”

Forest allowed Sneed and Jones, who were in a romantic relationship, to live in the basement of her home on South Canal Street along the Spokane River and take out a loan on her mortgage. She learned her home was being foreclosed by reading the newspaper, she said.  Sneed also bilked three people of about $165,000 by selling them products via the Internet that he never gave them.

His lawyer, Sean Walsh, said it was an effort to try to repay Forest.

“In effect what we have here is an unintended Ponzi scheme,” Walsh said. “Mr. Sneed admits he was incompetent in business and that this project failed,” Walsh said.

Sneed, an Eagle Scout and former aide to late Spokane Mayor Jim West, apologized Tuesday and said he never meant to defraud anyone.

Sneed has previous federal convictions for wire fraud that resulted in an 18-month prison sentence in July 2005. The scheme was similar - federal investigators said he swindled more than $125,000 from Internet customers.

He was indicted in 2004 while campaigning as a Republican candidate for the state House from Spokane’s 3rd District.

Sneed still has unresolved charges in Spokane County that allege he used a pilfered bank account number to cash nearly $3,000 in checks.

“He learned nothing from his previous time in jail,” Cook said Tuesday.

Arsonist, career criminal gets 10 years

A serial arsonist’s criminal past earned the wrath Friday of a federal judge who sentenced the man to 10 years in prison.

Anthony W. Sotin, 42, previously agreed to accept responsibility for setting his own car on fire on Jan. 12 and torching a commercial building at 13412 E. Nora Ave. on Feb. 9.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush was reluctant to accept the terms of the agreement, noting that Sotin’s first criminal conviction came at age 14.

“I have been on the federal bench from Houston, to Las Vegas to San Francisco and thousands of cases in my home district,” he said. “I don’t know that I have ever seen as an egregious criminal history as with you. A rational judge could conclude that Mr. Sotin should be locked up for the rest of his life to protect others.”

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

March 1: Arsonist pleads guilty after just 13 days

Feb. 19: Arrest made in building, vehicle fires

Aug. 8, 1997: Latest antics add to Sotin's long rap sheet

Felon jailed for arson, insurance fraud

A longtime felon who has filed at least 15 lawsuits against various government entities is in jail on federal arson and wire fraud charges. 

Anthony W. Sotin, 42 is accused of starting a fire in a vacant building on Nora Avenue and setting a car on fire Jan. 12, then filing a false insurance claim.

A hand-held torch was used to start the fires and in each case it was left behind by the arsonist.

Read Nina Culver's story here.

In 1997, Sotin was involved in a police chase that resulted in a story with this lead: Anthony Sotin has a history of bashing things: mailboxes, windows, his ex-wife’s nose. Read that story here.

Bank swindler faces new fraud charges

A convicted bank swindler who boldly walked out of a federal courtroom in Spokane three years ago to avoid arrest is back in jail, accused of another scheme.

John Earl Petersen, the key figure in the collapse of a Montana bank more than a decade ago, is accused of stealing nearly $170,000 from a brother and sister in 2006 after telling them they would receive $100 million in return.

Petersen is being held without bail at the Spokane County Jail. He’s pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion and is to stand trial in May, U.S. District Judge Edward Shea ruled recently.

It’s the latest for an admitted con man and frequent Las Vegas gambler who had a business office in Spokane when he was arrested in 1998, accused of masterminding the $10.5 million collapse of Montana Bank of Whitefish, Mont. Read the rest of my story here.

Petersen is pictured at the very top in 1997, and at the top left in 2008.

Past coverage:

Feb. 1, 1998: Agent paints Petersen as loan-sharking mobster

Convicted conman accused of fraud, again

A former state legislative candidate convicted in a federal fraud case four years ago is back in trouble, this time related to a proposed condo development in North Idaho and an alleged Internet-based scam similar to his previous crime.

Travis J. “TJ” Sneed, 27, also is accused in Spokane County Superior Court of using a pilfered bank account number to cash nearly $3,000 in checks under the name of a New Jersey loan company.

The six felonies he pleaded innocent to Tuesday, coupled with an indictment in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene charging him with a form of racketeering and 22 counts of wire fraud, are the latest in the legal saga of a convicted con man who once worked as a legislative aide to Jim West. Sneed served time in federal prison for fraud and sued the Spokane County Jail alleging sexual abuse by a cellmate.’

Read the rest of my story here.

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