Leader of $2 Million ID Theft Ring Pleads Guilty in VA

After six of seven scheduled witnesses testified at his trial, Leonardo Darnell Zanders, age 49, of Dolton, Ill., pled guilty Monday in federal court in Virginia to conspiring to commit bank fraud as one of the leaders in a nationwide identity theft ring that has resulted in a total loss of more than $2.1 million involving at least 10 financial institutions.

Zanders faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 18, 2009. Eleven other co-conspirators have been charged to date in this scheme, and seven others have pled guilty to date.

According to testimony at trial and court documents, Zanders recruited and directed conspirators in a nationwide fraud scheme to steal money from individuals and financial institutions from January 2007 through May 2009. Zanders worked with Clyde Austin Gray Jr., age 52, of Waldorf, Md., to pay other co-conspirators to pickpocket, steal and compromise the personal identification and bank account information of victims, and then used the information to make counterfeit driver’s licenses and military identification cards. Zanders distributed the fake IDs, along with counterfeit checks drawn on the victims’ bank accounts and other bank account information, to other co-conspirators. A co-defendant, Darrell Earl Price, testified that Zanders gave him checks in the name of Ben and Anna Bernanke, and Price used those checks in the bank-fraud scheme.

Court records state that Zanders directed others in the scheme to use the IDs and stolen bank information to impersonate victims and make split deposit transactions – depositing a check drawn on the bank account of another victim, and then siphoning the money out of the falsely inflated account. His co-conspirators returned a percentage of the stolen money to Zanders, who in turn distributed some of the proceeds to other co-conspirators. According to court documents associated with this conspiracy, the total fraud loss, including intended loss, attributed to the conspiracy is more than $2.1 million.

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