Portland man sentenced in bank fraud case

Victimized businesses include those in Camas and Vancouver

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GERRY BROOME/The Associated Press Sarah Hodges of Durham, N.C., looks at a camera while shopping Tuesday at a Super Target in Durham, N.C.

The ringleader of a team of thieves that spent seven years burglarizing office buildings, including those in Camas and Vancouver, will serve jail time and pay restitution to his victims.

Antione Lamont Lawrence, formerly of Portland, Ore., pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud in May. He was sentenced last week by U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman. According to the plea agreement, he will serve 97 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, and pay nearly $700,000 in restitution.

According to a press release, during the course of the investigation led by the Internal Revenue Service, the United States Secret Service and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s office, law enforcement executed 20 search warrants in four states. The result was the seizure of firearms, stolen prescription drugs, two marijuana grows, valuable jewelry, luxury automobiles and high-end electronics and computer equipment.

During the crime spree, the thieves would break into hundreds of commercial office buildings in 40 cities across the United States, stealing checks, credit cards and personal information, then creating false identification and cashing the stolen checks and shopping with and withdrawing cash from the stolen credit cards.

Members of the team were experts at gaining entry into office buildings, and once inside they would steal a master key or key card, which would allow them to re-enter buildings at will.

After rummaging through desks to steal business checks, credit cards, account passwords, and personal information, Lawrence and his team would recruit a team of check cashers to walk into banks to cash the stolen checks in amounts ranging from a few thousand dollars to $50,000 per check.

“For this ring of brazen thieves, law enforcement has put an end to the days of Rolexes and designer suits — bought with other peoples’ money,” said U.S. Attorney Dwight C. Holton. “There’s an important lesson for us all: even behind locked doors at the office, if you must leave valuables and personal information at work, make sure it is protected — not just in a locked desk, but in a safe.”

In addition to Lawrence, who would also use the moniker “T” as well as “Tony Montana,” the main character from the 1983 film “Scarface,” nine members of this team were indicted on federal charges, and an additional 10 persons associated with the team were convicted of state charges. Judge Mosman has handed down sentences to more than a half-dozen other men and women in connection with the scheme.

Marcus Williams, the IRS special agent in charge of the Pacific Northwest, said Lawrence’s sentence should be a deterrent to others who may want to commit the same kind of crime.

“A sentence of over 2,900 days in a jail cell sends a powerful message to anyone who would consider doing the same thing.”