June 2, 2021
Federal authorities in the United States accused a network of Venezuelans distributed between South Florida and Mexico of stealing more than $ 800,000 in stimulus chuecas awarded by the Biden Administration to people who lost their jobs or had financial problems during the pandemic.
In the first such case in Florida, federal prosecutors have accused Venezuelan Jesús Felipe Linares Andrade of conspiring to steal government money and steal identities.
But the suspect did not act alone, according to the Chicago Tribune up to four other co-defendants from the Caribbean country could be added to the indictment, federal prosecutors say in South Florida. Linares and the unidentified collaborators are accused of stealing hundreds of stimulus checks issued by the US Treasury and then cashing them through the use of “fraudulent” identification documents, the indictment notes.
Linares, 34, who lives in South Florida, was arrested in May and is being held without bond. He pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney, David Scott Markus, declined to comment on the case Tuesday.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic began to spread in March 2020, Congress has passed a series of stimulus checks from the Treasury totaling about $ 400 billion to help those left unemployed, working fewer hours, or earning less than what. it allowed them to obtain certain benefits.
Linares was caught in an FBI sting operation in which two confidential informants interacted with him and four other people in the alleged network. The members somehow stole the checks in South Florida and Mexico, and then fabricated identity cards to match the names of real U.S. taxpayers.
In the first transaction in January, an FBI informant met in the parking lot of the Aventura Mall with one of the four co-defendants to discuss the cashing of about 30 Treasury checks totaling $ 36,000, according to a criminal affidavit filed by Assistant District Attorney Michael Berger. Each of the checks was for $ 1,200 and was addressed to different US taxpayers with addresses in Mexico. The informant said he would cash the checks for a 30% commission.
According to the Chicago Tribune, while the stolen government checks were real, the FBI did not actually cash them as part of the operation, instead providing funds that were represented as proceeds from cashing the checks, according to the affidavit. . Some of the money was transferred electronically to Linares through an application called Zelle.
The affidavit, written by a Treasury Department investigator, summarizes a series of illicit transactions during the winter and spring.
In April, Linares met with the two FBI informants at the Miami International Mall in Doral to discuss picking up a UPS package from a post office box in Deerfield Beach. It contained 416 Treasury checks worth about $ 249,000. Linares arranged to pick up the package in mid-April and then put it in the trunk of the car the two informants were driving, according to the affidavit.
Linares requested $ 2,000 from the informants, and the FBI sent the money through a “controlled” bank account to Linares’ Zelle account, the Chicago Tribune notes.
Later that month, Linares spoke again with the two informants about coordinating the receipt of about $ 34,476 in “laundered funds” from stimulus checks, as well as the delivery of an additional 226 Treasury checks worth roughly $ 135,000, he says. the affidavit. Linares then contacted one of the informants in an email about sending identification documents that would be used to cash the stolen stimulus checks.
In late April, Linares met with the two informants at the Miami International Mall.
“During the meeting, Linares placed an envelope in the vehicle that contained more than $ 150,000 in stolen Treasury checks and more than 30 identification documents,” according to the affidavit. “The identification documents consisted of copies of driver’s licenses, including some from Florida. Some of the names on the driver’s license matched the names on the checks. “
At the time, the affidavit says, Linares had a photocopy of a driver’s license in the name of “JH” that matched a Treasury check issued to the same person for $ 600.
With information from the Chicago Tribune