BATON ROUGE – The Attorney General’s Office says a self-proclaimed “apostle, entrepreneur, and revolutionary” from Baton Rouge was accused of orchestrating a national financial fraud scheme that took advantage of over 300 victims including children, a church minister and individuals with poor credit to commit more than $5 million worth of fraud.
24-year-old Donald Batiste is charged with using his Baton Rouge-based credit repair company to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity, including theft, identity theft and money laundering. Over the course of his scheme, Batiste is accused of defrauding hundreds of individuals, along with financial institutions and automobile dealerships, across the country. According to the AG’s Office, millions of dollars in fraudulent purchases were made.
“Through this bogus company, hundreds of social security numbers were stolen and then sold to customers who were trying to legitimately improve their credit and obtain loans,” Attorney General 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.”
Caldwell says Batiste provided bogus “credit repair” services for a fee through his company, Best, Inc., to individuals with poor credit. The Attorney General says Batiste sold “Credit Profile Numbers”, or CPNs, as a part of the service, which he described as nine-digit numbers similar to Social Security numbers that could be used to assist customers in obtaining lines of credit.
After they received their CPN, customers were then instructed to use the number in place of their Social Security number on applications for loans or credit cards. The Attorney General’s Office says victims of Batiste’s fraud claimed they thought the business was legitmate because they received their new credit cards after filling out the applications.
As it turns out, the CPNs provided by Batiste, according to Caldwell, were actually the active Social Security numbers of hundreds of people across the United States. The AG’s Office says Batiste had purchased more than 300 stolen Social Security numbers for around $75 each from an online supplier. The man then turned around and sold them to clients as so-called CPNs for between $130 and $500. Caldwell says many of those stolen Social Security numbers belonged to children.
“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,” Caldwell said.
Along with the CPN scheme, Batiste is also accused of hiring at least 13 professional forgers to create fake Social Security cards, bank statements, utility bills and tax documents. All of the forged documents contained stolen Social Security numbers and names of specific clients. He sold the bogus cards to victims for $25 a piece.
In another angle to the rampant fraud, Batiste claimed that he could offer guaranteed unsecured lines of credit in amounts from $20,000 to $50,000 for an advance fee. Victims would pay the advance fees, which ranged from between $1,400 to $4,000, but would never receive the line of credit promised by Batiste. Investigators said Batiste refused to return the advance fees to clients and discontinued communication once he received the funds. Caldwell says one victim of this type of fraud was an Ohio church minister who paid Batiste $4,000 for a half-million dollar line of credit but received none.
Investigators said that over the course of Batiste’s criminal activity, more than 50 vehicles were purchased causing more than $1 million in funded automobile loans. Stolen Social Security numbers were also used to submit hundreds of online applications causing more than $3 million in pre-approved automobile loans. Another $1.2 million in credit lines at clothing and jewelry stores, credit cards from various banks and cell phone purchases were also discovered.
Batiste was booked into EBR Parish Prison where he was charged with felony racketeering and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit racketeering. He faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted.
Attorney General Caldwell says the investigation is ongoing with additional arrests likely.