Philadelphia man gets 10 years in check-cashing scheme

Posted: February 12, 2014

A PHILADELPHIA man will serve more than 10 years in a federal lockup for his role as the mastermind and leader in an elaborate check-cashing scheme, U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez ruled yesterday.

Phillip Eric Weems, 36, was sentenced to 10 years, 1 month in prison for forging and counterfeiting checks totaling $1.2 million with the help of 70 accomplices.

Weems' organization defrauded and attempted to defraud more than 50 victims, including banks, check-cashing companies and dog breeders, officials said.

Weems registered fake corporations with the state, often using names of real franchise corporations, like Taco Bell and McDonald's, to make nearly 500 fraudulent checks appear legitimate, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

He opened 15 business checking accounts in the names of the fake corporations and deposited enough money in each to make the accounts appear legitimate.

In addition to the check-cashing scheme, Weems also was charged with straw-purchasing three guns, according to prosecutors. Despite prior felony convictions for robbery that prohibited him from owning guns, prosecutors said, he used straw purchasers to obtain the firearms.

Weems pleaded guilty Jan. 30, 2013, to charges including conspiracy, uttering forged securities, aiding and abetting, and making false statements to federal firearms licensees.

During yesterday's sentencing, Weems sought a lesser sentence, asking the judge to consider that he self-reported the scope of his conduct to officials and surrendered his straw-purchased firearms. Sanchez declined the lesser sentence.

During his 12 years of incarceration for robbery at gunpoint, Weems also wrote a manuscript promoting white-collar crime, prosecutors said.

At yesterday's hearing, though, he was regretful, apologizing to his victims and saying there was no justification for his crimes.

"I apologize to each of the victims for the financial crimes committed against them," Weems said in the hearing.

Weems stated in his hearing that there was no justification for his actions.

"Wrong is wrong," he said.

Sanchez called Weems a danger to the community, citing both his violent and financial crimes.

In addition to prison, the judge ordered Weems to pay more than $182,000 in restitution and a $600 special assessment, and serve three years of supervised release.

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