4 sentenced in check-cashing scheme exploiting R.I. homeless people

FOUR GEORGIA men were sentenced to federal prison for running a scheme in which homeless and transient individuals found in and around the city were paid to cash counterfeit business checks in exchange for payment. / AP FILE PHOTO

PROVIDENCE – Four Georgia men were sentenced to federal prison for running a scheme in which homeless and transient individuals found around the city were paid to cash counterfeit business checks, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island said Wednesday. 

Austin Weaver, 31, of Decatur, Ga.; Cortavious Benford, 26, of Atlanta, Ga.; and Michael Williams, 26, and Jalen Ronald Stanford, 28, both of East Point, Ga., admitted in federal court that they r brought homeless individuals to financial institutions in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine, among other locations, provided them with counterfeit business checks and instructed them to cash the checks using their Rhode Island identification cards or driver’s licenses. The recruited individuals were paid $100. 

The four men were each convicted on a charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.  

Benford was sentenced on Tuesday by U.S. District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr. to two years in federal prison; Weaver was sentenced on July 15 to 2½ years of incarceration; Stanford was sentenced in June to two years in prison; and Williams was sentenced in February to 3½ in prison.  

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Each defendant has been ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $481,000 jointly. 

A Secret Service investigation found approximately $677,687 worth of counterfeit checks were presented to banks throughout the four states by members of the conspiracy between October 2018 and February 2021, causing $481,000 in actual losses to the affected financial institutions.  

On Feb. 5, 2021, Williams and Benford drove a homeless person to a Providence bank to cash a check, threatening to injure the man if he failed to provide them with all the cash. While inside the bank, the man reported the scheme and pointed out the vehicle the two men were in.  

The Providence police located the vehicle and arrested Williams and Benford, who allegedly had $12,00 in cash on them. Weaver and Stanford were arrested later. 

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lee H. Vilker. 

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