This week in Philly

Posted: June 25, 2012


Check-fraud case

Trial is scheduled to begin in the case of three defendants involved in a Philadelphia-based bank-fraud and identity-theft ring. Federal prosecutors said that from August 2009 through March 2011, defendant Markcus Goode ran the ring, and co-defendants Promise Mebrtatu and Milan Douglas and numerous "check runners" defrauded at least five banks. All have pleaded not guilty to fraud, identity theft and related offenses.

Authorities said Mebrtatu was Goode's "righthand girl" and assisted him in getting photographs of the check runners for fraudulent driver's licenses, accompanied Goode when taking check runners to bank branches to cash fraudulent checks, withdraw money from customers' accounts and fill out fraudulent checks to be cashed by check runners. Douglas accompanied Goode and Mebrtatu on check-cashing trips, including one to Vermont in 2011, and provided checkbooks to Goode to use in the scheme, authorities said.

In their trial memorandum, prosecutors described a fairly sophisticated scheme. They said Goode recruited drug addicts and prostitutes to act as check runners. (Four of the check runners have pleaded guilty in the case and are cooperating with the government.) Goode and others, including Mebrtatu, would get clothes and makeup for some of the check runners "so that [they] would look presentable when conducting fraudulent transactions at bank branches," prosecutors said.


PHA appeals hearing

The U.S. Court of Appeals here will hear oral arguments in the case of Vincent Morris, who served as executive assistant to former Philadelphia Housing Authority executive director Carl Greene from 1999 until 2010. Morris filed a lawsuit in federal district court in 2010 against Greene, PHA, an affiliated organization and several high-ranking housing officials. In the complaint, Morris said he had raised concerns with Greene and other officials of PHA and Tenant Support Services Inc. that they were engaging in improper and illegal lobbying activities by using federal funds and that there was ongoing fraud, inefficiency and waste at PHA and TSSI.

Morris alleged that Greene and two other high-ranking officials of PHA and TSSI conspired to deprive him of his free-speech and equal-protection rights by retaliating against him for speaking out on the alleged improprieties. U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint in July 2011. Morris subsequently appealed to the 3rd Circuit and the appeals court said, after parties filed briefs, they wanted to hear oral arguments on the merits of Morris' case.

— Michael Hinkelman

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