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Business Observer Monday, Aug. 1, 2022 4 days ago

Tampa man sentenced to 5 years for counterfeit credit cards, unemployment insurance fraud

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The 30-year-old man made credit cards using stolen information and committed fraud to obtain unemployment benefits.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

A 30-year-old Tampa man was sentenced to five years and one month in federal prison Aug. 1 for making counterfeit credit cards using the names of people whose identities had been stolen and for getting $86,804 in unemployment benefits he was not entitled to.

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday also ordered the man, Devaris McClain, to pay $92,346.54 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Labor and several banks.

McClain pleaded guilty in January.

The crimes McClain admitted to committing stretch as far back as January 2015, according to the plea agreement filed in court papers in January.

That's when McClain and unspecified associates began making fake credits, according to the plea.

What they would do is buy prepaid cards and then print stolen credit and debit card numbers, as well as victims’ names, on the front of the cards. Because these weren’t actual credit cards, they would scratch off or somehow alter the magnetic strip on the back. When a cashier swiped the card, the strip was unusable, forcing the cashier to manually punch in the account number on the front of the card.

They would use the counterfeit cards to buy merchandise, including gift cards, from retail stores and then sell what they had bought in order to get cash, which was then split by the conspirators.

On Aug. 20, 2016, McClain attempted to spend $1,015.86 at a Walmart store in Brandon using the altered cards, authorities alleged. In all, he tried using six different cards that had someone else’s name and account number on the front. The plea agreement does not say whether he was eventually successful or if those transactions brought him to the attention of the authorities.

As for the unemployment insurance fraud, the plea agreement says McClain filed a fraudulent claim in California using the name, date of birth and Social Security number of an individual identified in court papers as J.O.

The claim was filed online during the pandemic, and the mailing address used in the application was on Deleuil Avenue in Tampa. Once the claim was in, a financial institution sent a debit card ending in 6258 to the Tampa address. At least $13,862 were deposited on the card in J.O.’s name, according to the plea.  

McClain used the card to pull money from ATMs, including on July 6, 2020, when he made two withdrawals totaling $1,000 from a machine at 11613 N. Nebraska Ave.

That’s when law enforcement contacted J.O. and learned he did not know an unemployment claim had been made in his name and did not know who McClain was.

McClain was indicted Aug. 4, 2021, and arrested Aug. 13, 2021, according to court records.

The indictment shows that between Aug. 24, 2020, and Aug. 26, 2020, McClain used the credit of another individual, identified as T.M., to pull out $3,000.

In all, prosecutors say he was able to receive more than $86,804 in insurance benefits, but court papers aren’t clear how many victims that was from. Nor do court papers make clear why it took nearly seven months for him to get sentenced after pleading guilty.

McClain was caught in, part at least, through the efforts of an investigative task force made up of local and federal law enforcement agencies led locally by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. The task force was created as part of national effort to crack down on COVID relief and pandemic related fraud that took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, the Main Street Lending Program and Unemployment Insurance.

The office, to date, has prosecuted 34 defendants who allegedly defrauded the government of nearly $51 million.

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