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Norton Shores woman among 18 sentenced in bank card scheme

Tribune Staff • May 15, 2018 at 6:07 PM

GRAND RAPIDS — A Muskegon County woman is among 18 mostly West Michigan residents who were sentenced in a scheme to defraud Bank of America.

Crystal Kaye Pugh of Norton Shores was sentenced in federal court in Grand Rapids to two years probation. It was the lightest sentence among the group of defendants.

The lengthiest sentence was given to Tirrell Perry Thomas, the Michigan leader of the scheme. The Kalamazoo man was sentenced to 102 months (8.5 years) in federal prison as part of an ongoing multi-state investigation, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge announced Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney sentenced Thomas, Pugh and the other defendants for their involvement in the bank card fraud scheme, which sought to obtain more than $780,000 from Bank of America and resulted in losses totaling $455,709.

This is Thomas’ third federal felony conviction, Birge said. He was convicted of federal drug trafficking offenses in 1999 and 2007.

Birge said the defendants were sentenced for their respective roles in the fraud scheme, including accountholders who opened or used Bank of America accounts to accept fraudulent check deposits and then make fraudulent withdrawals at banks and casinos, mid-level recruiters who accompanied and directed accountholders on trips to open bank accounts and withdraw funds, and the leaders and organizers of the scheme, who collected and divided the fraud proceeds.

The sentencings follow a 28-count indictment that was returned by a grand jury in August 2017 alleging that 19 people participated in a conspiracy to defraud Bank of America in November and December 2015. The fraud was accomplished by using debit cards to withdraw funds from ATMs and casinos in Michigan, which had been fraudulently deposited into the bank accounts in Illinois by Chicago co-conspirator Earl Lee Cobb IV.

Cobb was sent to federal prison for 78 months for his role in the scheme.

The other defendants are residents of South Haven, Wyoming, Parchment, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Sturgis. Their sentences ranged from 54 months to one day in federal prison. Besides Pugh, three others were sentenced to two or three years probation.

In addition, each defendant was ordered to pay restitution to Bank of America ranging from $8,027 to $455,709, depending on the amount of actual loss for which they were held responsible.

Eighteen defendants pled guilty to at least one count in the indictment. A 19th defendant, an accountholder, was allowed to enter a period of pretrial diversion, a form of probation without entry of a guilty plea.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Chicago, with assistance from the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Tribal Police Department.

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