ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LA (WVUE) - District Attorney Warren Montgomery announced a 90-count indictment resulting from a year-long investigation into a complex fraud scheme in St. Tammany Parish.
During a press conference on Friday, Montgomery said that the fraud scheme was so large that investigators are searching for over a hundred suspects.
"This indictment concerns a complex scheme to defraud and it took a lead individual who recruited others and took their information and used them to produce checks taken to businesses for cash and assets," said Montgomery.
So far, 16 people have been arrested in connection with the Blak Maze Entertainment mafia. BME mafia is a local subset of the Black Gangster Disciples, a dynasty in the Chicago-based Folk Nation Alliance.
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 scheme, nicknamed "The Nike Game," began when Willie Mack Cauley, 40 was displaced after the floods in Baton Rouge.
Cauley, a rapper who moved to Slidell, would recruit people in the parish for his scheme.
He would designate them into categories such as "smurfs," "mules," and "recruiters." They only knew him as "BME."
"You had smurfs who were recruiters and mules and in different roles involved in the identity theft," said Slidell police detective Nick Burtanog
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. He is being held on $1 million bond.
According to prosecutors, The smurfs would work at different institutions such as area businesses and steal people's financial information by taking photos of credit cards. Fake checks would be made with this information and would be passed on to recruiters.
The recruiters would then target people with substance addiction to become "mules" and cash the checks.
The mules would get a small amount of money for cashing the check, and the rest would be sent back up the chain of command to Cauley, according to Slidell Detective Nick Burtanog.
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.
The St. Tammany Sheriff's Department was targeted in the scheme, but had a "positive pay system" in check which spared taxpayer dollars.
"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."
The positive pay system in place was a list of checks expected to be deposited or cashed each day. If a name or check isn't on the list for the day, it is flagged.
This helped investigators locate catch a few of the mules which ultimately led them to Causey.
"We got BME's phone number from a couple of mules, they did not know the name Willie Mack Cauley," Assistant District Attorney Butch Wilson. "After identifying Cauley, they went to his address and pulled over his sister. He showed up to the scene and an officer called his number and the phone went off."
The phone was seized and Cauley was taken into custody.
Cauley has a past criminal history and is believed to be associated with the BME gang, and the Folk Nation Dynasty.
Three other St. Tammany Parish residents are also under arrest and are being held on a $100,000 bond.
The Attorney General is now issuing arrest warrants for 12 more individuals who will be charged in this racketeering scheme that built local businesses out of more than $140,000.
"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."
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.