US man in prison pleads to hacking cellphone data, emptying bank accounts

Investigators seized more than US$100,000 (RM424,550) in jewellery, cash and shoes, which Richardson forfeited to offset the amount of restitution he owes, officials said. — Using phone photo created by Dragana_Gordic -

A Michigan man in prison for unemployment fraud pleaded guilty in connection with using cellphone account information to empty bank accounts, the state Attorney General’s office announced on Jan 25.

Johnny Richardson entered his plea Friday in Wayne County Circuit Court in front of Judge Paul Cusick, records show.

He was charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, a 20-year felony.

“The charge stems from Richardson’s activities, which included hacking into the victims’ bank accounts by utilising dark web identity information and using the ported cellphone numbers for two-factor authentication,” officials said in a statement Wednesday. “The funds from the victims’ bank accounts and the unauthorised loans would then be routed through several other bank accounts. Richardson’s associates would intercept the mailed checks delivered to unsuspecting victims’ homes.”

The scheme netted more than US$379,000 (RM1.60mil) for Richardson and his associates, according to the release.

Investigators seized more than US$100,000 (RM424,550) in jewellery, cash and shoes, which Richardson forfeited to offset the amount of restitution he owes, officials said. The shoes are slated to be auctioned by the state using M&W Auction in Grand Rapids.

“The illegal activities of this defendant were incredibly serious,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “The pleas in these cases will ensure accountability and help offset the losses sustained by the victims of these crimes.”

On Jan 11, Richardson’s associate, Delajuan Harris, pleaded guilty to conducting a criminal enterprise. He will be extradited to Alabama to face additional charges related to mail theft in that state as a part of the scheme, Nessel’s office reported.

The matter was referred to the Michigan Department of Attorney General Financial Crimes Division from the US Postal Police.

“Between June 2018 and August 2019, Richardson and his associates attempted to steal over US$1.8mil (RM7.64mil), but only obtained over US$379,000 (RM1.60mil),” investigators said.

Richardson is serving a federal prison sentence for stealing Covid-19 relief. He pleaded guilty in 2021.

Prosecutors accused him and his girlfriend of teaming with Brandi Hawkins, a former contract employee at Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, in a US$2.5mil (RM10.61mil) scheme involving money aimed at helping workers during the pandemic. – The Detroit News/Tribune News Service

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