An elaborate $5 million scheme involving fake Social Security cards and more than 300 stolen identities circulating through a bogus “credit repair” company led to a Baton Rouge man’s arrest Tuesday.
Donald Lonnell Batiste, 24, of the 2100 block of 71st Avenue, was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on counts of felony racketeering and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit racketeering, Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell said in a news release.
Batiste, Caldwell said, is the man behind Best Inc., a company billing its services as a means to overcome bad credit. The firm issued its customers 9-digit Credit Profile Numbers, or CPNs, which Batiste described as alternate Social Security numbers patrons could use to obtain new lines of credit.
At least initially, the scheme appeared to work, according to the release.
“Many victims of Batiste’s fraud claimed they were convinced that his business was legitimate based upon receipt of their new credit cards,” Caldwell said in the statement.
But what Batiste’s customers didn’t know was the CPNs were legitimate Social Security numbers that had been stolen and sold to Batiste for around $75 each through an online supplier, which he in turn sold to clients for $130 to $500, Caldwell said.
Many of the Social Security numbers belonged to children and had been captured without their parents’ knowledge, according to the release.
Batiste also worked with some 13 professional forgers to fabricate counterfeit Social Security cards, bank statements, utility bills and tax documents, Caldwell said. He also falsely advertised that he had arrangements with financial institutions to offer guaranteed unsecured lines of credit. Once paid by customers, Batiste would disappear and not deliver on the product, according to the statement.
“In one case, a minister of an Ohio church paid Batiste $4,000 for a half-million-dollar line of credit for his church,” Caldwell said in the release.
Batiste’s activities led to around $5 million in fraudulent purchases, Caldwell said.
The Duluth, Georgia, Police Department and Shaker Heights, Ohio, Police Department worked with Caldwell’s Office on the investigation.
If convicted, Batiste faces up to 75 years in prison. Additional arrests in the case are likely, Caldwell said.