Local man gets 10 1/2 years in federal prison for role in multi-million-dollar bank scam

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced Charles Washington, 44, to 10 1/2 years in federal prison, and ordered him to pay $1.84 million in restitution for his role in a ring that managed to impersonate wealthy customers of local banks and transfer money to dummy accounts.

Washington pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud conspiracy and four counts of bank fraud in August for his activities, which included defrauding customers of Citizens Bank and Santander Bank in Massachusetts and New Jersey of nearly $4 million.

According to the US Attorney's office:

"Washington obtained bank account information, personally identifiable information, and sample signatures from bank customers with high balances. He then recruited runners to impersonate the account holders in order to make unauthorized withdrawals by obtaining and distributing fake driver’s licenses to the runners that bore the runners’ photographs with the account holders’ personal information. Washington instructed the runners on how to forge the victims’ signatures. To avoid detection, runners withdrew money from victims’ accounts at several different bank branches.

"Washington and others also recruited runners to open bank accounts (known as drop accounts) in the name of non-existent businesses (known as shell business). The shell businesses were registered and named as if they were title companies, property management companies, contracting businesses, and other businesses for which incoming large-dollar wire transfers would not be unusual. Washington provided the shell businesses’ information to co-conspirators who made unauthorized wire transfers in the hundreds of thousands of dollars into the drop accounts. Once the drop accounts were funded with unauthorized wire transfers, Washington and the co-conspirators accompanied runners to bank branches to withdraw the money -- in cash, by check, or by wire transfers to other drop accounts -- before the victims of the unauthorized wire transfers realized that their accounts had been compromised."

In court documents, officials did not specify just how Washington and ring members Khary Jones and Alvin Reeves obtained customers' bank information and signatures, but the indictments against them refer to "bank employees who were not authorized to disclose information."

Washington's attorney had asked US District Court Judge to impose a sentence of no more than five years. He wrote Washington was a good family man - his only tattoos are the names of his wife and children - actually only netted a few thousand dollars from the scheme, that roughly half of the money allegedly stolen was still in bank accounts and that Washington was not actually a ringleader. And, he continued, the real ringleaders got much softer sentences. Alvin Reeves, who pleaded guilty to 11 counts related to the crimes, was sentenced to just 3 1/2 years, he wrote.

But Judge Mark Wolf sided with prosecutors, who said 10 1/2 years was a fair sentence, partly because the $1.8 million still unaccounted for - federal agents found just $4,000 in cash when they nabbed Washington - is a lot of money

But also, a prosecutor wrote, Washington has done this sort of thing before, if not to the same extent:

"He was first convicted of larceny in 1999 for dispatching runners fake IDs to buy merchandise with counterfeit checks, an offense eerily similar to his offenses of conviction. He was convicted of larceny again in 2001, at age 27. At ages 29 and 30, two more convictions followed for dispatching runners to pass counterfeit checks at a Rockland Trust. At age 34, he was convicted again and sentenced to two years in prison for passing fraudulent Traveler’s Checks. Washington was then convicted of cocaine trafficking and sentenced to three years in prison - a conviction later vacated in April 2017.

"There is accordingly ample reason to fear that Washington might return to fraud upon release, especially where he was on probation when he launched the scheme charged in the Indictment."

Washington was also convicted of cocaine trafficking, but had his three-year sentence overturned because the drugs in the case were tested by disgraced Massachusetts state chemist Annie Dookhan, the prosecutor's sentencing recommendation continues.