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Tampa grand jury accuses five in $940,715 mobile banking scam

Published Feb. 5, 2015

TAMPA — Thieves collected at least $940,715 by using smartphones to deposit money orders they, in essence, borrowed from the U.S. Postal Service, federal documents charge.

A grand jury in Tampa indicted five men Wednesday on conspiracy and bank fraud charges, providing a glimpse of a scheme, reportedly ongoing since 2010, that capitalized on two conveniences of commerce.

Many banks allow customers to deposit checks remotely, using cellphone applications. Customers retain the checks.

The Postal Service sells and cashes money orders, touting them on the Web with the pitch, "Money orders are a good way to send cash that never expires."

The scam, as described, didn't require an eternity.

Conspirators opened multiple bank accounts, bought postal money orders, deposited them by smartphone, cashed them outright at post offices and withdrew funds from the bank accounts, the indictment states.

Charged are Ronald J. Anderson III, Demario M. Perez, Brian K. Lewis, Joe Luis Diaz II and Jason A. Devine. At least two men, Anderson and Perez, appear to be from Tampa.

The newly filed case doesn't explain why the Postal Service or banks would be vulnerable to such activity.

According to the court record, Anderson alone collected at least $360,315; Perez, $212,648; Lewis, $189,898; Diaz, $92,300; and Devine, $85,550.

The affected banks included Fifth Third, JP Morgan Chase, SunTrust and Bank of America.

Contact Patty Ryan at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.