NEWARK, N.J. – A Union man was one of two men arraigned Tuesday for their alleged roles in a phony check scheme that stole over $2 million in merchandise from multiple home-improvement stores throughout the country, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Lessie Dickerson III, 33, of Union, and John Muyeka, 42, of Sayreville, are charged by indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and two counts each of wire fraud. Muyeka is also charged with one count of producing false identification documents.
Both defendants were arraigned on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden in Newark federal Court and pleaded not guilty.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Starting in December 2013 and continuing through February 2017, several individuals, including Dickerson and Muyeka, conspired to obtain merchandise or store credit from home-improvement stores in locations along the eastern United States, including New Jersey, by purchasing items with fraudulent checks.
Muyeka allegedly produced false driver’s licenses from New Jersey and other states using photographs of his conspirators, along with fictitious names, addresses, and dates of birth. Muyeka provided the fraudulent identification documents to his conspirators.
Dickerson and others entered home-improvement and other retail stores and gathered several high-value items like air conditioners or hardwood flooring. Dickerson and others then typically “purchased” the items either by handing a cashier a fraudulent check with a phony name but authentic account and routing numbers, or by pretending to be an authorized signatory on a store credit account that Dickerson and others had previously opened with a phony check.
During some of the transactions, Dickerson and others allegedly displayed the fake driver’s licenses that had been created by Muyeka, which either duplicated the phony name imprinted on the fraudulent check they presented for payment or matched the name of an authorized signatory on a store credit account that they had previously opened.
In total, Dickerson, Muyeka, and others allegedly stole over $2 million in merchandise from various retailers in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Texas.
Dickerson and Muyeka each face 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the wire fraud charges. Muyeka faces 15 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for the producing false identification documents charge.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Acting Inspector in Charge Ruth M. Mendonca, and special agents of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, with the investigation. He also thanked the Union Township Police Department, the Holmdel Police Department, the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, the Totowa Police Department, and the Monroe Township Police Department for their assistance.
The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.