This series is about my investigation of a mail fraud ring that attempted to scam my firm, the history of its bad actors, and the methodology that I used to look into it. You can see the whole chapter index here.
Just shy of six years ago, in September 2011, a direct-mail scammer tried to scam my firm. I sent his lawyer an email calling him out. The scammer — David Bell — called me and tried to con me. So I started to write about it.
This week he pleaded guilty to two federal felonies for the scam.
Popehat regulars are familiar with the "Anatomy of a Scam" series, in which I used David Bell's fraudulent enterprise to illustrate how you can use the internet to investigate and expose scammers. Most recently, in Chapter 14, I talked about how he had finally been indicted for federal crimes related to two different scams: the one he tried on my firm and one he tried on payroll firms.
This week, two years after his indictment, David Bell pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in violation of 18 USC 1343 and one count of mail fraud in violation of 18 USC 1341. The minute order reflecting his guilty plea is here. He pleaded guilty to counts three and five of the indictment against him. Significantly, that means he admitted to both schemes charged in the indictment. In one scheme, he scammed payroll companies: he pretended to hire them to handle payroll for his employees, gave them bank account information for accounts to back the payroll, and got them to issue pay to his employees from the payroll company's account, only to discover that Bell did not have the funds to repay the payroll companies. In the second scheme — the one he tried on my firm — he sent out fraudulent solicitations designed to look like invoices for services rendered, even though he hadn't rendered services, hoping that companies would just pay without noticing that the solicitations were fraudulent.
You can read his plea agreement here. The part where he admits to the facts supporting the plea is on pages 9 – 13.
How much time will he get when he's sentenced? Hard to say. Federal sentences are based in part on the recommended sentence calculated under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, as I've described here before. Bell's plea agreement agrees to some, but not all, of the applicable sentencing factors; for instance, it looks like they agreed to argue at sentencing what the loss was from the mail fraud scheme. The agreement shows that the feds plan to seek numerous Sentencing Guideline enhancements. Bell has a robust history of criminal fraud; in his own motion asking the judge to prevent the government from cross-examining him with his prior convictions, he admitted a felony obtaining money under false pretenses conviction in 2002, a felony insufficient funds conviction in 2002, grand theft and insufficient funds convictions in 2004, and two felony grand theft auto convictions in 2014. In the plea Bell waived his right to appeal his sentence as long as it is 108 months (that's 9 years) or lower, which gives you a rough idea of what the parties are expecting. I think there's an excellent change that David Bell will be sentenced to at least 9 years in federal prison. He'll actually serve at least 85% of that.
Genuine career con artists frighten me in a way that violent criminals don't. I've encountered quite a few of them, and they're missing something human. They seem utterly irredeemable. David Bell will find it much harder to victimize people while he's in federal prison, and that's likely the only way to stop him from doing it. People like this don't reform or stop until they die.
Anyway, good show by the United States Postal Inspectors and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
A postscript: Chapter Fifteen of this series could have been quite different. Now that he's pleaded guilty, I feel comfortable revealing that the feds subpoenaed me to be a rebuttal witness at trial. That would have been interesting.
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