A former Army civilian employee stole thousands of troops’ personal information and collected millions of dollars in fraudulent military benefits as part of an international identity theft ring, according to a new federal indictment released on Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors arrested five individuals on charges of conspiracy, theft and fraud they say targeted current and former military members by opening fake benefits and bank accounts, then routing the money through several countries to disguise the wrongdoing.
“The crimes charged today are reprehensible and will not be tolerated by the Department of Justice,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “These defendants are alleged to have illegally defrauded some of America’s most honorable citizens, our elderly and disabled veterans and service members.”
Veterans Affairs and Defense Department officials said they are coordinating with the Justice Department to notify the individuals victimized in the crimes, some of whom may not be aware of any unusual activity with their benefits.
Both agencies also promised more details soon on steps taken to “secure military members’ information and benefits from theft and fraud.”
Federal prosecutors did not detail how many victims or how much money was stolen, but said the scheme dates back as far as 2014.
The indictment alleges that Fredrick Brown, a former civilian medical records technician with the 65th Medical Brigade at Yongsan Garrison in South Korea, took photos of medical files for thousands of service members and veterans, including their Social Security numbers, military ID numbers and current addresses.
That information was used to open up fake accounts in the military and VA online benefits systems, and reroute money to other bank accounts.
Two other U.S. citizens — Trorice Crawford and Robert Wayne Boling Jr. — were charged along with Allan Albert Kerr (an Australian citizen) and Jongmin Seok (a South Korean citizen) in the criminal ring. Boling, Kerr and Seok were arrested in the Philippines earlier this week. Crawford was arrested in San Diego, and Brown was arrested in Las Vegas.
The group also used the information to gain access to some troops’ bank accounts, siphoning cash away from them and into their own pockets. They targeted several military focused banking institutions, including the Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union and USAA.
The five men employed a network of “money mules” to help move the funds around to avoid detection. Prosecutors said evidence of all five’s connection to the fraud came to light earlier this year.
If a defendant is found guilty, wire fraud — which each of the five men were charged with — can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Other charges in the indictment could add more time to that total.