SANTA ANA, California – A convicted felon from Orange County who used social media to instruct his Instagram followers on how to defraud banks was sentenced today to 90 months in federal prison for conspiring with a bank employee and others to commit a check fraud scheme in which they sought $1.2 million.
Meshach Samuels, 26, of Placentia, was sentenced by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney, who also ordered him to pay $423,087 in restitution.
Samuels pleaded guilty on May 25 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and two counts of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.
From May 2021 to March 2022, Samuels urged his Instagram followers to join his Telegram chat groups, where – for a fee of up to thousands of dollars – he would provide instructions on how to recruit accomplices and commit check fraud to steal money from banks.
Samuels and his accomplices would create fraudulent checks drawn on victim accounts, frequently using stolen information obtained from a bank teller and other sources. Samuels’ co-conspirators, with Samuels’ help, would deposit the fraudulent checks into third-party accounts.
Once the check amounts were credited to the third-party accounts, Samuels’ co-conspirators, again with Samuels’ assistance, fraudulently withdrew money in amounts below $10,000 to avoid triggering bank scrutiny. The corrupt bank teller was paid a portion of the cash the conspirators obtained from negotiating fraudulent checks.
This check fraud scheme attempted to obtain at least approximately $1.2 million and caused actual losses of at least $423,087.
Samuels also participated in a scheme in 2021 to defraud the California Employment Development Department (EDD) through the submission of fraudulent applications for pandemic-related unemployment insurance that contained stolen identity information. Those fraudulent applications included information from individuals who resided outside California, were deceased, or who otherwise were not eligible for unemployment insurance. Members of the scheme provided EDD with a set of common mailing addresses they controlled for multiple applications.
After EDD approved the fraudulent applications and disbursed the pandemic benefits to EDD debit accounts, Samuels and his co-schemers used the debit cards to withdraw cash at ATMs.
In total, Samuels caused at least $14,250 in actual losses to EDD.
In addition, Samuels, whose criminal history includes felony convictions in Florida for aggravated battery on a law enforcement official, admitted to unlawfully possessing firearms and ammunition. Specifically, during an August 2021 traffic stop in Costa Mesa, police officers found a firearm and ammunition concealed on his person. In March 2022, federal agents searched Samuels’ residence and seized five firearms and ammunition.
“As reflected by the voluminous actual and intended losses, [Samuels’] conduct was not the product of a short-term lapse in judgment but was calculated behavior that was mass-marketed on social media and engaged in for months, affecting scores of victims,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “The proceeds of the fraud were used to purchase luxury and high-end items and firearms.”
In a related case, Sasha Lizette Jimenez, 26, Samuels’ former girlfriend, pleaded guilty on May 22 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud for running the EDD fraud scheme in which Samuels participated. Jimenez, who was the conspiracy’s bookkeeper, caused the issuance of at least $2.8 million in fraudulent UI benefit debit cards – and at least $2.3 million was withdrawn from those debit cards. Judge Carney has scheduled a December 4 sentencing hearing for Jimenez.
The investigation into this scheme was conducted by the Los Angeles El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force, a multi-agency task force led by Homeland Security Investigations that includes federal and state investigators who are focused on financial crimes in Southern California. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration also participated in this investigation. The Costa Mesa Police Department, the Inglewood Police Department, the Placentia Police Department, the New York City Police Department, and the Miami Beach Police Department provided assistance.
Assistant United States Attorney Rachel N. Agress of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section prosecuted this case.
Anyone with information about allegations of fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.