MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge on Monday sentenced two men to decades in prison for their roles in a $50 million bank fraud conspiracy that authorities say spanned six states and depended on employees of some of America's largest banks stealing customers' identities.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis sentenced the alleged ringleader, Julian Okeayaninneh, 44, of Colton, Calif., to 27 years in prison.
Earlier in the day, Davis sentenced Olugbenga Temidago Adeniran, 36, of New York, described as a high-level manager in the conspiracy, to 22 years in prison.
A federal jury in Minnesota convicted Okeayaninneh and Adeniran in February on multiple counts, including bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.
So far, 27 people have either pleaded guilty or been convicted in the scheme, in which customer identities were stolen, then bought and sold, and used to create phony bank and credit card accounts, apply for loans or get cash. Prosecutors say the conspiracy was carried out from 2006 through 2011 in Minnesota, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New York and Texas.
Authorities said the scheme victimized more than 500 people around the world by stealing their personal and financial information. The Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force led the investigation, dubbed Operation Starburst, which brought together investigators from local, state and federal agencies.
"Today's sentences send a clear message to those identity thieves and fraudsters who conspire with dishonest bank employees to wreak havoc on the personal finances of innocent customers," U.S. Attorney for Minnesota B. Todd Jones said in a statement.
In the statement, Louis Stephens, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Minnesota, described the operation as "a complex criminal conspiracy with an organizational hierarchy and effectiveness much like traditional organized crime."
After Okeayaninneh's arrest, authorities found more than 8,000 stolen identification documents in his storage locker, including hospital records, bank records and credit reports. Prosecutors say Adeniran used fraudulent credit cards to obtain cash from banks and buy merchandise from the Mall of America and Southdale Center.
Victims included customers of American Express, Associated Bank, Bank of America, Capital One, Guaranty Bank, JP Morgan Chase Bank, TCF Bank, US Bank, Wachovia Bank, Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo.