HSI investigates synthetic identity scheme that defrauded banks of nearly $2 million


LOS ANGELES — A Georgia man was sentenced Sept. 1 to more than seven years in federal prison for participating in a nationwide fraud ring that used stolen Social Security numbers, including those belonging to children, to create synthetic identities used to open lines of credit, set up shell companies and steal nearly $2 million from financial institutions. The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Corey Cato, 41, of Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, who also ordered him to pay $1,908,481 in restitution. Cato pleaded guilty May 9 to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud at a financial institution and one count of aggravated identity theft.

As late as 2017, Cato joined conspiracies to defraud banks and illegally possess credit cards. Cato and his co-conspirators created “synthetic identities” by combining fake personal information such as fake names and dates of birth with the information of real people, such as their social security numbers. Cato and others then used the synthetic identities and fake identity documents to open bank and credit card accounts at financial institutions. Cato and his co-conspirators used the illegally obtained credit cards to fund their way of life.

As part of the scheme, Cato maintained a commercial mail receiving agency space called “Pak Mail” in Georgia where he and his co-conspirators received correspondence related to synthetic identities, including bank account statements and credit card, while isolating their home addresses from detection.

Using a stolen social security number and a fake California driver’s license, Cato rented an apartment in Atlanta under the name “Jason Brown”, where, in February 2019, he had credit cards and financial information in the name of synthetic identities like “Adam M. López” and “Carlos Rivera”.

“[Cato] and his co-conspirators built their wealth on the backs of the people whose identities they stole, many of them children,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “The effects on these victims’ credit history and their sense of violation are impossible to quantify, but they are more reminiscent of the seriousness of [Cato’s] crime and the callousness of his conduct.

This investigation is part of a series of cases which have resulted in criminal convictions for 12 defendants, including Turhan Lemont Armstrong, 52, of Northridge, who was convicted at trial in 2019 51 counts of fraud, money laundering, identity theft and other federal offenses.

Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander B. Schwab of the Major Fraud Section and Allison L. Westfahl Kong, Chief of Trials, Integrity and Professionalism, prosecuted the case.

HSI is the primary investigative arm of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, particularly criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which commerce, travel and international finance. HSI’s workforce of more than 10,400 employees includes more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities across the United States and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative police presence overseas and one of the largest international law enforcement footprints in the United States.


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