A Louisiana man faces charges of using his Baton Rouge, La.-based credit repair company to steal more than 300 identities and $5 million in a nationwide fraud scheme.
Louisiana Attorney General James D. Caldwell’s office has accused Donald Lonnell Batiste, 24, with engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity - including identity theft, theft and money laundering. Batiste allegedly defrauded hundreds of people, as well as financial institutions and automobile dealerships across the U.S. Millions of dollars in fraudulent purchases were made through the scheme, according to Caldwell.
Batiste allegedly provided bogus "credit repair" services for a fee through his company, Best Inc., to people with poor credit. He sold Credit Profile Numbers (CPNs) as part of the service. He described the CPNs as nine-digit numbers similar to Social Security numbers that could be used to help customers obtain lines of credit.
But the CPNs sold to customers, according to investigators, were actual Social Security numbers of people located nationwide. Batiste allegedly purchased more than 300 stolen Social Security numbers for approximately $75 each from an online supplier. He then sold them to clients as CPNs for between $130 and $500. Many of the Social Security numbers belonged to children, according to Caldwell.
“Hundreds of Social Security numbers were stolen and then sold to customers who were trying to legitimately improve their credit and obtain loans," Caldwell said. "As a result, millions of dollars have been illegally squandered in the form of bank loans, automobile purchases and credit lines on clothing and jewelry. Through our investigation, we found that many of the Social Security numbers were stolen from children. When we reached out to the victims’ parents, they had absolutely no clue that their kid’s identity had been stolen."
Customers, upon receipt of a CPN, were told to insert the number in the section of the loan or credit card application that requested a Social Security number in order to be approved for a credit line. Many victims claimed they were convinced that his business was legitimate after receiving their new credit cards.
The investigation further revealed that Batiste allegedly worked with 13 professional forgers who created fake Social Security cards, bank statements, tax documents and utility bills.
Batiste allegedly required people to pay an advance fee from $1,200 to $4,000 to receive so-called guaranteed lines of credit ranging from $20,000 to $500,000. The credit lines would never materialize and then Batiste would refuse to return the advance fees while stopping all communication with the victims, according to Caldwell, who cited an example of a minister with an Ohio church who paid $4,000 for a half-million dollar credit line for his church.
Batiste was booked into East Baton Rouge (La.) Parish Prison and charged with felony racketeering and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit racketeering. If convicted, he faces up to 75 years in prison. Caldwell said the investigation into the fraudulent activity is ongoing, and additional arrests are expected.