Quentin West, of Pittsburgh, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for his role in cashing more than $370,000 in bogus payroll checks at Wal-Mart stores nationwide from late 2009 until August 2011, when he and two others were apprehended at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Tilton. Authorities found in their rental car stolen identities of hundreds of people and equipment used to make false ID cards and to print checks.
West faced nearly eight years in prison, but he received credit for helping federal investigators build cases against Edgar Rose, of Pittsburgh, and Omar Patterson, of Cleveland. Both have pleaded guilty to wire fraud. Rose will be sentenced Feb. 20 and Patterson on March 19.
Details about the extent of West's cooperation were not revealed publicly, but were whispered to U.S. District Judge Joseph DiClerico at the bench. The government's motion for a reduced sentence based on that cooperation remains sealed.
West thanked DiClerico for showing leniency and expressed regret that he let "someone talk me into this criminal debauchery."
He apologized "to the court and to the victims of this senselessness," adding: "If I had the resources, I would be willing to give it all back."
Court documents do not reflect the financial loss to the hundreds of people whose identities were stolen and used both the payroll checks and fraudulent personal checks used to purchase thousands of dollars' worth of merchandise—mostly designer clothing and accessories.
When the men were apprehended Aug. 23, 2011, the car they were driving contained records listing Social Security numbers, dates of birth, mother's maiden names and other personal information of hundreds of people, Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier said. He said the trio also kept detailed records of which stolen identities each of them used and at which stores.
"The potential for large numbers of victims was huge," said Cormier said. "They wouldn't have stopped."
Wal-Mart security officials say 270 people had their identities misused on checks the retail giant cashed, according to West's plea agreement.
Their scheme unraveled when an off-duty loss prevention investigator from Kohl's department stores—on vacation in New Hampshire and shopping with his wife—happened to be in line behind the men when a Brooks Brothers clerk challenged the identification being used. The investigator, Michael DeMeo, alerted Tilton police. Undercover officers trailed the men from store to store, checking the validity of the checks by calling the banks and people listed on the checks. The checks all proved to be fraudulent, Cormier said.
Rose's plea agreement calls for a sentence of about six to nine years. Patterson agreed to a sentence of more than three years.