Reputable ringleader admits conspiring to rip off seven Pennsylvania banks and credit unions

WILLIAMSPORT — The reputed leader of a criminal organization, according to a federal prosecutor, fraudulent banks and credit unions across the country, including Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

James Harris-Bey, 51, of the Detroit area, admitted in U.S. Intermediate District Court Friday that he ripped off seven banks and credit unions in northern Pennsylvania.

The terms of the plea agreement require him to pay restitution totaling $218,182.

He is one of three people charged so far in a scheme in which accounts at banks and credit unions were opened using forged rental contracts, paychecks and tax returns.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alisan V. Martin, describing government evidence, said Harris-Bey and his co-conspirators made deposits using forged checks he created that contained the names of fictitious companies.

Withdrawals were then made at various branches on the same day before the financial institutions could reconcile the accounts.

On October 25, 2019, withdrawals of $1,552 each were made at seven First Citizens Community Bank branches after counterfeit checks were allegedly deposited by Horizon Medical Home Care.

Harris-Bey used women posing as home nurses to withdraw funds.

Peter Douglas, 41, and Jaunea Waller-Bey, 36, both of Detroit, are also accused of taking people posing as traveling nurses to their homes at banks. They are awaiting trial for bank fraud.

Harris-Bey was arrested March 23 in Mississippi and said at arraignment that he was heading to Arizona to be with his wife.

Martin disputed that claim, alleging he traveled through Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee to target banks in those states.

Check printing software was found in his vehicle. Laptops and a printer were seized and a scan of his cellphones revealed he was leading the co-conspirator movement, she said.

The criminal activity Harris-Bey has been accused of began less than three months after the end of an 80-month federal sentence in Ohio under a similar check cashing scheme in which he was to return $765,112.

With some reluctance, Judge Matthew W. Brann released Harris-Bey on personal recognizance into the custody of his sister in Detroit with the warning that if he stepped out of line he would be back in jail.

It will be easier for Harris-Bey to work through her diabetes-related medical issues without being in jail, deputy public defender Gerald Lord explained.

The reasons given for keeping him in custody so far included a significant history of convictions for fraud, as well as charges of assault with intent to commit murder in 1990, providing false information to a police officer in 1994 and escape and escape in 2006.

National Crime Information Center records list 25 aliases and six dates of birth for him.

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