Ring leader of traveling burglars that hit Kirkland sentenced to eight years
By CARRIE RODRIGUEZ
Kirkland Reporter Editor
September 15, 2010 · 5:56 PM
A former Portland man was sentenced to eight years in prison Monday for his role in a fraud scheme that targeted dozens of cities - including Kirkland - across the U.S. over a six-year period.
Antione Lamont Lawrence, 37, led a team of at least 19 thieves across the country to burglarize commercial office buildings, steal checks, credit cards and personal information from 2001-2007. The group used the information to create false identification documents and checks to commit bank fraud.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman also ordered Lawrence to pay $688,624 in restitution to his victims. He was sentenced to five years of supervised release.
“For this ring of brazen thieves, law enforcement has put an end to the days of Rolexes and designer suits – bought with other peoples’ money,” said U.S. Attorney Dwight C. Holton in a press release. “There’s an important lesson for us all: even behind locked doors at the office, if you must leave valuables and personal information at work, make sure it is protected – not just in a locked desk, but in a safe.”
Lawrence pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud in May and admitted that he and his team committed commercial burglaries in more than 40 cities across the U.S.
In Kirkland, members of the team, including Lawrence, stole nearly $30,000 in checks from an unnamed Kirkland law office in 2003 and then using an alias cashed the checks at the Kirkland and Juanita branches of U.S. Bank, according to court documents.
Other Washington cities hit by the thieves include Bellevue, Mercer Island, Auburn, Seattle, Tacoma, La Center, Vancouver, Camas and Lynnwood.
The thieves specifically targeted offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants and insurance companies because those offices were more likely to have corporate credit cards, petty cash and prescription drugs like Oxycontin, officials said.
Members of the team were experts at gaining entry to office buildings and once inside they would steal a master key that would allow them to re-enter buildings at will.
After rummaging through desks to steal business checks, credit cards, account passwords, and personal information, Lawrence and his team would recruit a team of check cashers to walk into banks to cash the stolen checks in amounts ranging from a few thousand dollars to $50,000 per check.
The group primarily recruited attractive females to cash checks, and instructed male check cashers to wear business suits. Before entering a bank, check cashers would apply super glue to their fingers in the event the bank required a fingerprint to cash the check, to avoid detection, according to court documents.
The team often struck businesses on Friday nights, so they could cash stolen checks at banks on Saturday mornings when businesses were closed and were not available to answer calls from the banks.
After a successful check-cashing spree, the group would party at strip clubs, often using the stolen credit cards to fund their celebration.
Team members also shopped with the stolen credit cards, buying Rolex watches, designer clothes and high-end electronics, or traveled to Las Vegas or area casinos to obtain cash advances on the stolen cards.
Total losses resulting from the stolen credit cards and cashed stolen checks, according to the indictment, are estimated at nearly $400,000 and investigators have identified hundreds of victims in several states.
Also on Monday, Judge Mosman sentenced co-defendant Crystal Lynn Tuell, 27, of Portland, to five years probation for her role as one of the check cashers for Lawrence’s team.
Codefendant Richard Mastin, 36, of Portland, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of bank fraud for his role in the scheme.
Previously, Donald Wright was sentenced to 51 months in prison, Bradley Maier to 41 months in prison, Reggie Maier to 24 months in prison, and Raymond Contreras III to 24 months in prison, and U.S. District Judge James Redden sentenced Alfonso Lopez-Ramirez to 71 months in prison, all in connection with this scheme.
Nine members of this team were indicted on federal charges, and an additional 10 people associated with the crime spree were convicted of state charges.
The investigation was led by the Internal Revenue Service, the United States Secret Service and the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.Contact Kirkland Reporter Editor Carrie Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-822-9166 (ext 5050).