Man admits to identity theft scheme that took thousands from local senior citizens

Criminal sentenced to prison for role in using forged checks and passports to get access at banks.

A suspect in a large identity theft scheme targeting area senior citizens in four southwest Ohio counties and resulted in thousands stolen from bank accounts pleaded guilty and was sentenced Thursday.

Hassan Forde, 28, of Bronx, New York, was arrested the end of March on a 29-felony count indictment handed down in December by a Butler County grand jury for crimes committed last summer in Butler, Hamilton, Montgomery and Warren counties. Those charges include forgery, passing bad checks, grand theft by deception, receiving stolen property, identity fraud against a person of a protected class, theft from a person of a protected class and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, all felonies, according to court records.

Forde has been held in the Butler County Jail on a $1 million bond, which is typically reserved for defendants charged with a violent crimes.

Forde pleaded guilty Thursday in Butler County Common Pleas Court to seven of the indicted charges and admitted he was involved in the pattern of identity theft in July and August 2022, directing cash thefts at multiple bank branches in a day.

Judge Michael Oster sentenced Forde to five to seven-and-a-half years in prison.

The total amount taken in the criminal operation that included stolen mailed checks and fake passports is $59,062. Forde’s attorney Hal Arenstein told Oster during the hearing he had $25,000 in restitution.

The charges against Forde are the culmination of a months long scheme he orchestrated to “recruit vulnerable individuals from New York, who were typically homeless or drug addicted, transport them to Ohio, provide them with stolen identities via manufactured Passport ID cards with local elderly persons personal identifying information on the cards, transport them to local banks to make unlawful withdraws, and taking the money from the vulnerable individuals for this criminal enterprise,” Assistant Prosecutor Garrett Baker said in court documents.

During the summer of 2022, there was a significant uptick in area bank activity, including GE Credit Union, First Financial and LCNB, according to prosecutors.

The pattern involved individuals known as “runners” who appeared to be elderly persons, one typically wearing a Bluetooth earbud and getting dropped off at a bank out of sight of cameras. They entered the bank and presented a check that was deposited into an account linked to a local victim whose identity had been compromised, often due to theft from a blue mailbox, according to Baker.

The runners then presented a manufactured passport identification card that appeared to be legitimate and withdrew between $4,000 and $5,000. Runners entered multiple different banks, with stolen identities, multiple times a day.

“When three ‘runners’ were apprehended, the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office, with the assistance of the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, and Warren County Prosecutor’s Office, was able to coordinate efforts and ensure that the individuals who were cashing these checks would be held accountable, along with other co-conspirators,” Baker said in court documents.

After months of investigation, the prosecutor’s office determined Forde was “the key figure in the identify theft scheme,” Baker said. It was determined Forde would communicate with runners through the Bluetooth earbud when they were in the banks.

Forde kept some of the money for himself and divvied up the rest to other members of the criminal enterprise. He had no ties to the community — “it was simply a community to exploit, much like the drug addicts and homeless individuals his organization recruited, which he transported,” Baker said in court documents.

The alleged “runners” recruited by Forde are also facing criminal charges and cases are pending.

On July 29, 2022, Victor Morales, one of the alleged runners, provided with forged checks and a manufactured passport from Forde, went into two Northside Bank and Trust (“NSBT”) locations with identification showing himself as the account owner. He was successful at one location, withdrawing $4,500, but not at the West Chester Twp. branch where he was arrested, according to court documents.

A case is is still pending against Morales.

That victim and his family were in court for Fordes’ sentencing. They said checks mailed for payments were not received, and that is when they first knew something was wrong. The couple said they no longer mails checks.

“He got what he deserved,” the man said. He added they were fortunate, saying the bank “made them whole,” returning the money to their account.

Baker said the amount of money taken “under represents the amount of harm it has caused. These are just the known ones where the bank was vigilant enough to determine a problem was occurring; there are others where customers may not have figured it out.”

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