District Attorney Warren Montgomery hosted a press conference Friday (April 27, 2018) at 10:30 a.m. to announce the indictment of 16 suspects, charged with racketeering and 89 counts of bank fraud for an alleged check counterfeiting operation. The indictments, returned April 19, were the result of a yearlong investigation by Det. Nick Burtanog of the Slidell Police Department.
Between January and August 2017, the suspects operated as the “BME Mafia” and sought to defraud several banks, individuals, and government agencies, including the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office. During a three-month scope of the operation, 89 checks, totaling more than $140,000, were discovered to have been presented to various financial institutions. The suspects called their scheme the “Nike game,” referring the sports company’s check logo.
"The criminal acts of financial fraudsters cause enormous damage to unsuspecting individuals and banks,” Montgomery said. “Check counterfeiting has reached epidemic levels as thieves become more sophisticated. We hope that this indictment shows the depth of our commitment to use all the tools in our arsenal, including racketeering laws, to fully prosecute these unlawful operations.”
The racketeering charge was a collaborative effort, resulting from Assistant District Attorneys working with the Slidell police department. Assistant District Attorney Butch Wilson is the lead attorney on the case.
Montgomery applauded the outstanding work of Detective Burtanog, who led the investigation at the Slidell Police Department, and thanked the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, the Louisiana State Police and the United States Secret Service for their assistance.
“White-collar crime is a costly crime that costs Americans over $300 billion a year,” Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal said. “Cooperative endeavors from multiple different law enforcement agencies brought down this criminal enterprise.”
The accused ringleader, Willie Mack Cauley, 40, of Slidell, has been arrested, and his bond was set at $1 million. Cauley, a rapper who runs an enterprise known as BlakMaze Entertainment, moved to St. Tammany in August 2016 after the Baton Rouge floods. He is accused of creating and/or providing counterfeit checks and identification to the other members of the enterprise, directing the operation, and receiving the majority of the profits.
Cauley allegedly enlisted the help of his associates in Baton Rouge to recruit co-conspirators, distribute, and present counterfeit checks out of the bank accounts of St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, Diamond Sharp Contracting Group, Blue Ridge of Sumpter, Ross Dress for Less, Rack Room Shoes, and other individuals. Cauley is charged with racketeering and 89 counts of bank fraud.
At least 16 counterfeit checks were presented against the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office account for more than $30,000. Another 15 counterfeit checks were presented against other victims in Saint Tammany and Washington Parishes for more than $15,000. All losses were reimbursed by each bank.
“Although, the Sheriff’s Office did not suffer any financial loss on behalf of the taxpayers, my staff has put additional controls in place to prevent future fraud attempts,” St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith said. “We would encourage all residents to keep a close watch on their personal and business accounts. My office, along with our local and federal partners, will aggressively pursue anyone or any group looking to take advantage of our citizens.”
Bond was set at $200,000 for the remaining defendants, many of whom also have been arrested. The suspects, accusations against them, and charges as follows:
Teineka White, 43, of Sumter, South Carolina, accused of accessing account information as a retail vendor for Bank of America and sending it to Cauley via text; racketeering and 24 counts of bank fraud.
Kierra Dunbar, 20, of Slidell, accused of taking photos of legitimate customer checks at Ross Dress for Less and Rack Room Shoes, where she worked at the time, and providing them to Cauley for counterfeiting purposes; racketeering and 21 counts of bank fraud.
Victor Harris, 34, of Jacksonville, Florida, accused of giving a legitimate check, drawn on the account of Diamond Sharp Contracting Group, to Cauley, who then made counterfeit copies; racketeering and 11 counts of bank fraud.
Frederick Selders, 36, of Baton Rouge, accused of serving as a recruiter who enlisted individuals, known as “mules,” to cash the counterfeit checks and share in the profits; racketeering and seven counts of bank fraud.
Kelvin Carter, 25, of Gonzales, accused recruiter; racketeering and nine counts of bank fraud.
Marcus Nalls, 27, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter; racketeering and five counts of bank fraud.
Tasha Variste, 31, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter; racketeering and four counts of bank fraud.
Jonquayle McCoy, 24, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter; racketeering and three counts of bank fraud.
Larry Womack, 23, of Slidell, accused recruiter, racketeering and nine counts of bank fraud.
Jonathan White, 40, of Biloxi, accused recruiter; racketeering and eight counts of bank fraud.
Robert Hatch, 26, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter; racketeering and one count of bank fraud.
Steven Stanley, 27, of Baton Rouge, accused recruiter; racketeering and five counts of bank fraud.
Loreal Dunbar, 33, of Baker, recruiter; racketeering and six counts of bank fraud.
Derrick Variste, 33, of Baton Rouge, recruiter; racketeering and 17 counts of bank fraud.
Dareyan Byrd, 39, of Dothan, Alabama, recruiter; racketeering and two counts of bank fraud.