MINNEAPOLIS — A Stillwater man was one of four persons sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul for their roles in a large, multi-state identity theft ring.
Twenty-five-year-old Derek Charles Estell was sentenced to 30 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson after Estell pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Also sentenced by Magnuson Thursday were 27-year-old Donyea Terrell Collins of Richfield, to 55 months in prison, and 44-year-old Kelly Jenelle Scott, no known address, to 46 months in prison. Collins and Scott also pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Magnuson also sentenced 30-year-old Lee Vang of St. Paul to 30 months in prison on one count each of conspiracy to commit money laundering and aggravated identity theft. Vang had previously pleaded guilty to the charges.
The four sentenced Thursday, along with more than 100 other people, were involved in a conspiracy from 2006 through December 2011 to defraud banks, bank customers and businesses, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones’ office.
Persons involved in the scheme used victim information to create counterfeit checks and fake Ids to fraudulently purchase items at stores, then return them for cash, and at banks, where conspirators posed as customers and withdrew money from victims’ accounts, the statement said.
Investigators uncovered evidence that the conspirators conducted fraudulent transactions throughout Minnesota and in at least 13 other states, the statement added.
Victim information was obtained by the ring from multiple sources, including from persons who stole information from their places of work; from employees at area banks; from stolen mail, and break-ins of vehicles and businesses, the statement said.
Following the sentencings, case investigators praised the collaboration of numerous law enforcement agencies involved in the case.
“This investigation came together as a result of the partnerships between agencies and the extraordinary efforts of all involved,” said Patrick Henry, head of the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force. “The Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force led this investigation, but it is an example of successful collaboration of local, state and federal criminal justice agencies.”
“These individuals caused immeasurable hardship to innocent victims,” added Kelly R. Jackson, special agent-in-charge of the IRS Criminal Investigations St. Paul field office.
Since mid-June, several other defendants in the case have been sentenced, with their prison time ranging from time served to 43 months, the statement said.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service also investigated the case along with the task force and IRS. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen B. Schommer and Michelle E. Jones prosecuted the cases.
Jones’ office said the case is a reminder for people to protect themselves from identity theft. Several government web sites offer identity theft-prevention information. They include www.stopfraud.gov/protect-identity.html; http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/investigations/MailFraud/fraudschemes/mailtheft/IdentityTheft.aspx, and the IRS Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft at www.irs.gov.