A Georgia inmate managed to pull off an $11 million heist from behind bars, according to a new report.
Arthur Lee Cofield Jr. has been accused of using contraband cell phones to mastermind a deal that swindled Sidney Kimmel, a California billionaire, in what is believed to be one of the largest heists ever pulled off from behind bars in the U.S., according to Fox News.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that Cofield has targeted others as well.
“Mr. Cofield has figured out a way to access accounts belonging to high net worth individuals, frankly billionaires, located across the country,” federal prosecutor Scott McAfee said at a bond hearing in December 2020.
McAfee said then that Cofield accessed an account that belonged to Nicole Wertheim, the wife of Florida billionaire Herbert Wertheim. The claim, which could not be confirmed, said $2.25 million was stolen.
In both cases, the stolen money was converted to gold coins, the reports said.
“Some prisoners aren’t interested in rehabilitation or paying their debt to society,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak said in a news release issued by the Justice Department when Cofield was charged with the scam in December 2020.
“The allure of millions of dollars in gold, coupled with contraband prison cellphones, allegedly was enough for Cofield to commit a brazen million-dollar fraud scheme from the confines of his prison cell,” he said.
The Journal-Constitution report said that $11 million was sent from Kimmel’s Charles Schwab account to a company in Idaho, in which 6,106 American Eagle one-ounce gold coins were purchased.
The coins then went to Atlanta, where some were used to buy a $4.4 million house.
At the time of the incident, Cofield had been inside a Special Management Unit.
The Journal-Constitution offered a clue as to how the scam worked.
Cofield called Schwab as Kimmel to open a new checking account using TextNow, an app that made it appear as if he was calling from a Los Angeles area code. Told he needed a form of ID and a utility bill, he came up with a photo of Kimmel’s driver’s license and a copy of his Los Angeles water bill,” the outlet reported.
The house purchase was done with Cofield on the inside using his phone while his assistants brought cash to whoever needed it to make the sale go through.
“The whole thing was weird,” said Scott West, the architect who designed the house and spoke to Cofield, who was using the name “Archie Lee” for the deal.
“He’d disappear for a couple of weeks, then call me and say, ‘Sorry, I was in Mexico,’ blah, blah, blah,” he said.
Michael Zembillas, who sold the house to Cofield, said when the scam was exposed, “Yeah, there were a lot of things that crossed my mind. Like, how did he do this with a cell phone?”
“Cofield was a shrewd, intelligent individual who could con you out of millions,” said Jose Morales, the warden at the Special Management Unit when Cofield was housed there.
Morales said he suspected Cofield paid corrections officers to get phones, but he could never prove that claim.
“He was so good at it that we were never able to ascertain how he got them in there,” Morales said.
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