As a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, one of the founding members of the Identity Theft Unit after its creation, and a New York criminal defense attorney, I have seen countless individuals charged with Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument and related offenses for their involvement in some form of large scale fraud.
Whether the Grand Jury indicts these individuals for Forgery, Identity Theft, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, Falsifying Business Records or Trademark Counterfeiting, the felony offenses they face can land them in state prison for a term of up to 7 or 15 years. In the event there is an associated theft in excess of one million dollars, that potential sentence can reach 25 years.
Recently, on September 18, 2008, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Jordan Arnold presented a year long investigation to the Grand Jury after the arrest of Malikim Brown. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office press release, Mr. Brown used Craigs List to perpetrate a scheme where he sold counterfeit software such as Microsoft, Adobe Systems and Symantec. After engaging in a transaction with an undercover officer, Mr. Brown told the officer he could also make and sell counterfeit United States currency. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office press release, “[o]ver the course of the investigation, [Mr.] Brown sold the undercover detective over $10,000 in counterfeit U.S. currency and over $15,000 in counterfeit American Express and Visa Travelers Cheques, JP Morgan Chase certified bank checks, United States Postal Service money orders and MoneyGrams co-branded with Wal-Mart, CVS/pharmacy and the American Automobile Association (AAA).”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office further alleges that during the investigation Mr. Malikim Brown also “offered to sell City of New York birth certificates, federal social security cards and complete W-2 tax returns all of which could be used to obtain government-issued identification and lines of credit in the name of the person listed on the documents in each set.”
Not only is it alleged that Mr. Brown made these various counterfeited items or offered to sell them, when the police executed a search warrant at his premises they recovered an additional $25,000 in counterfeit money as well as uncut sheets of bills and the computer equipment to make that contraband.
Unfortunately for Mr. Brown, according the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office press release, the Grand Jury has indicted him for 35 counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the First Degree, a class C felony which is punishable by up to 15 years, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, a D felony which is punishable by up to 7 years and three counts of Trademark Counterfeiting in the Second Degree, Criminal Possession of Computer Related Material and Unlawful Duplication of Computer Related Material class E felonies which are punishable by up to 4 years, all in prison.
There are many lessons to be learned here. Law enforcement aggressively pursues people who commit crimes of fraud and they are well aware of how Craigs List and related sites are avenues for criminal enterprises. Lastly, you may believe you are acting anonymously on the web and on your computer, but the tools law enforcement have – from a subpoena to computer forensic programs – prevents your activities from remaining hidden for long.
In the event you find yourself in a predicament of a similar nature, retain a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney who can navigate you through the murky waters of these types of crimes, challenge the prosecution to their burden and, most importantly, fight to maintain your rights, freedom, and future.