PHILADELPHIA—Brandon James, 23, and Lenardo Nicolas, 25, both of Florida, were charged today by indictment with participating in an illegal check cashing scheme that involved cashing fraudulent checks using the drive-through teller lane at victim banks. It is alleged that the defendants and other co-conspirators from Florida, known and unknown to the grand jury (“crew members”), stole identifications, checks, bank cards, and credit cards from women’s wallets and purses usually left inside the victims’ cars in unattended parking lots. In order to carry out the scheme, the defendants and other crew members recruited female co-conspirators (“workers”) who could impersonate the victims’ identifications. The defendants and other crew members specifically instructed the workers to use the drive-through teller lanes, known to law enforcement as the “felony lanes,” to cash the fraudulent checks. The defendants carried out the alleged scheme between December 2012 and September 2013. The indictment charges each defendant with one count of conspiracy, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger.

According to the indictment, James, Nicolas, and other crew members rented cars for the female workers to use during the course of the scheme. It is alleged that the defendants and other crew members covered the rental car’s license plate, usually with a stolen license plate, to conceal the identity of the car as it was in the bank drive-through lane. After a fraudulent check was successfully cashed, the workers would meet the defendants and other crew members, who waited close by to the bank in another rental vehicle, and then give them the money from the illegally cashed check. The workers would then receive another fraudulent, stolen check or checks and stolen identification to use at the next victim bank. The indictment alleges that the defendants and other crew members perpetrated this scheme in different states around the country. The victim bank locations in Pennsylvania included Montgomery and Chester Counties.

If convicted, James and Nicolas each face a maximum possible sentence of 67 years in prison, a $2.5 million fine, a five-year period of supervised release, and a $400 special assessment.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Hatfield Township Police Department, the Willistown Township Police Department, and the Upper Uwchlan Township Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Chun Barry and Special Assistant United States Attorney Peter Hobart.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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