Charges Announced in the Theft of Checks Intended for Court-Appointed Lawyers

Two indictments were unsealed at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday, charging six defendants with defrauding court-appointed criminal defense lawyers. The indictments allege that the defendants stole checks intended for attorneys representing indigent defendants in federal court. In addition, three defendants allegedly stole one lawyer’s identity and opened bank accounts in their name.

The indictments represent the first charges brought in an ongoing investigation into the theft of checks intended for federal criminal justice system participants, such as court-appointed criminal defense attorneys, paralegals, investigators, translators, court reporters, and jurors. The investigation so far has revealed over $1 million in checks stolen and deposited into unauthorized accounts since 2021.

Defendant Ada Tavarez is alleged to have impersonated a Criminal Justice Act (CJA) attorney and opened bank accounts using the lawyer’s stolen identity, presenting false documents to a bank teller, including a fraudulent driver’s license and an email address using the lawyer’s personal identifiers. Days later, Tavarez allegedly attempted to deposit a stolen check for $125,386.81 with a forged signature.

Another defendant, Markel Washington, is alleged to have accessed the fraudulent account online, called the bank multiple times asking for the funds to be released when a hold was placed on the check, and saved multiple versions of a photograph of Tavarez printed on a fraudulent driver’s license with the lawyer’s personal information. Defendant Tyquan Robinson is alleged to have accessed the fraudulent email account, possessed the phone number listed for the email account’s recovery phone number, and saved the lawyer’s personal identifiers in his iCloud account.

Defendants Nicholas Barton, Richard Reid, and a third co-defendant are alleged to have participated in a similar scheme over the course of about two years. After depositing the stolen checks, the defendants allegedly withdrew cash from ATMs to make purchases at stores and restaurants, purchase flights, and transmit payments amongst themselves and others through cash transfer apps.

The charges include bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

Additional Reading

Six Defendants Charged with Defrauding Court-Appointed Criminal Defense Attorneys, United States Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York (February 7, 2024)

US brings first charges over theft of checks for court-appointed lawyers, Reuters (February 7, 2024)

Image Credit: J.J. Gouin /