NBC 10 I-Team: Exclusive look inside bank fraud bust
They planned road trip to Rhode Island, but they didn’t come for the clam cakes and chowder.
"These people came up from Brooklyn, New York to target a bank in Coventry, Rhode Island,” said Lt. Matthew Blair of the Coventry Police Department.
Investigators gave the NBC 10 I-Team an exclusive look behind the scenes of what they say is a sophisticated, multi-state bank fraud scheme that’s already drained some $50,000 in cash out of the accounts of unsuspecting account holders from Pennsylvania to New York.
Some of the details of the case are bizarre, including one suspect who police said tried to eat fake IDs used in the scam before officers could confiscate them as evidence.
"One of the individuals involved was actually eating the identification card,” Blair said. “Somehow they had either cut it up, or sliced it up into small pieces, and they were actively ingesting it."
Police identified that suspect as Collin Thompson, 34, of Brooklyn, who they say was the ring leader. He was arrested Thursday, along with Monique Ellington, 33, Allister Sylvester, 31, and Ana Oppenheimer, 35, all also from Brooklyn.
A sharp-eyed bank teller called police after Oppenheimer came into the Coventry branch on March 2, saying she was buying a house nearby with her girlfriend and needed to withdraw a large amount of cash. When Oppenheimer couldn’t answer specific questions about the account, the teller became suspicious.
Oppenheimer quickly left the bank without the cash, but was spotted with the three other suspects in a car with New York license plates parked across the street.
All four were arrested and charged with felonies including identity fraud and conspiracy. Thompson was also charged with trying to destroy evidence for allegedly eating the fake IDs, a misdemeanor.
The four suspects were hitting bank branches up and down the east coast for several weeks as part of a larger organized crime operation, investigators told NBC 10.
But it was local officers in Coventry who finally busted them.
"If they weren't apprehended, they were working towards emptying out individuals' bank accounts,” Blair said.
Police showed NBC 10 a collection of fake IDs used in the scam, including several driver’s licenses from states including Massachusetts and New Jersey. The names, birth dates and addresses belonged to actual account holders.
But the photos were of one of the four suspects. Police said the group then used the IDs to withdraw cash at locations up and down Interstate 95.
Because the suspects had valid information about bank customers, investigators believe someone inside the bank was in on the scam.
“It seems to be possible that there was some inside involvement,” Blair said.
Coventry Police declined to identify the bank by name, saying only that it was a large commercial bank with locations in several east coast states.
A judge set bail for three of the four defendants at $2,000 with surety, or $200 cash, which they quickly paid. Oppenheimer was released on personal recognizance. All four were granted permission to leave Rhode Island the same day.
Coventry Police are now working with the NYPD and the FBI on the case.