Local news

Pair arrested, charged in FBI fraud case

Investigation claims $814,000 in thefts

A woman and her boyfriend are accused of embezzling $814,000 from two Spokane advertising agencies and using the money for down payments on houses, luxury vehicles and airline tickets for a youth football team’s trip to California.

Michelle A. Wing and Kenneth Marsh are each accused in a federal indictment of conspiracy and multiple counts of bank fraud in a white-collar crime investigation handled by the FBI.

Wing also is charged with two additional counts of identity theft – opening credit card accounts using her boss’s name, Social Security number and birthdate without his knowledge.

The credit card fraud, which lasted several months, reportedly included the $30,000 purchase of a 2008 Super Bowl package for the couple.

Wing, 33, was arrested and taken into federal custody last month for violating terms of her supervised release from a similar federal bank fraud conviction in Montana, court documents show.

She is being held at a federal correctional facility at SeaTac and is expected to be returned to Spokane soon to be arraigned on the new charges.

FBI agents arrested Marsh on Wednesday at a Spokane concrete company where he works as a dispatcher.

A short time later during an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno, the 39-year-old suspect was ordered held without bail until a detention hearing Friday.

The indictment alleges Wing was hired in December 2005 by Centaur Group, a Spokane business that provides administrative services for two advertising companies, E Media, owned by Eric Hixson, and Power Marketing Services, owned by Ryan Pirello.

The two businessmen, who jointly own Centaur Group, said Wednesday they hired Wing to do bookkeeping work through a temporary employment agency based in Spokane whose owner had assured them he had done a criminal background check.

They had no idea, Hixson and Pirello said, that the bookkeeper they hired was on federal supervised release for a 2001 bank fraud conviction in Missoula.

Her job responsibilities were limited to processing company checks for payment, reconciling bank records, opening company mail and paying invoices, the indictment says.

Marsh was her “friend and associate,” and not employed by Centaur or the two advertising agencies, the indictment says.

Between June 1, 2006, and July 31, 2008, Wing obtained money, goods and services for her personal use by several methods, including forging corporate bank checks and making unauthorized withdrawals and deposits between corporate bank accounts to “conceal fraudulently obtained funds,” the indictment alleges.

Further, it says, Wing and Marsh fraudulently acquired and used credit cards and credit accounts by using the business owners’ credentials and personal identifying information without their authority.

Wing used an online application, using Hixson’s name and personal information, to obtain an Advanta Bank Corp. credit card. She used her personal e-mail at Centaur and her business phone “for the purpose of correspondence and communication” about the credit card account. She eventually ran up $389,919 in charges.

Marsh, using the same credit card, ran up an additional $106,586 in charges, the indictment says.

In June 2006, Wing forged Hixson’s signature on business checks, converting those funds to a $16,654 in cashier’s check she then used for closing costs on a home she bought at 1731 E. Dalke, the indictment says.

She again fraudulently forged her employer’s signature in October 2007 when she wrote a check for $15,756 to Southwest Airlines to buy 67 roundtrip tickets, from Spokane to Southern California, for children and adults associated with Marsh’s son’s Pop Warner youth football team, the indictment says.

At that same time, it alleges, Wing and Marsh were given an $11,845 reimbursement check for the airline tickets from the youth football association, which they converted to their personal use.

Last December, Wing used a similar fraudulent scheme to obtain a $16,095 check that Marsh used to pay closing costs on a home he bought at 1616 S. Rocky Ridge Dr., in Spokane Valley, the charging document says.

In February, Wing forged another $14,500 check drawn on an E Media bank account for a down payment on a 2005 Toyota Sequoia she bought from a downtown dealer. The SUV was seized by FBI agents Oct. 13.

Shortly before the business owners detected the fraud, Wing used another $5,000 check drawn on the business to buy a 2003 Lexus GS300 from a North Spokane dealer.

A criminal forfeiture count seeks forfeiture of the Sequoia and an $814,000 judgment against both defendants.

Bill Morlin can be reached at (509) 459-5444 or billm@spokesman.com.


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