back to article Prison inmate accused of orchestrating $11M fraud using cell cellphone

A US prisoner has been charged with orchestrating an $11 million scam from his cell using a hidden … cellphone. On June 8, 2020, an individual claiming to be billionaire film producer and philanthropist Sidney Kimmel contacted brokerage Charles Schwab by phone and stated that he had uploaded a wire disbursement form using the …

  1. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Of course, what this guy did is bad. But in a way, I admire the ingenuity of this inmate. Doing this scam from a maximum-security cell requires a lot of organization, ruse and intelligence.

    == Bring us Dabbsy back! ==

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yup. I was waiting for the claim that this crime was "sophisticated" but I think they wisely decided for once not to step into that one.

      BTW, I am grateful that "Butts County" for once did not refer to the phone's hiding place. At least the shape of a modern smartphone makes that a tad harder. And a lot more dangerous given the battery problems some have.

      I have to stop now because my mind just started to wonder about charging and it's going to take a while to lose those visuals.

      :)

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        A phone 'charger', like in Papillon?

    2. aerogems Silver badge

      I was going to make a similar comment. Being able to pull that off from within prison is pretty impressive.

  2. DS999 Silver badge

    Why can't they solve this problem?

    Put up microcells in the prison yard so all phones in the prison connect to them, and whitelist the IMEIs of phones allowed to complete calls. Now granted that might not be an option for prison in a city, but many prisons in the US are in out of the way places or have enough unused land around them that this would be quite doable if the power levels of the microcells was adjusted to insure it doesn't connect to any phones outside the property.

    There is a medical prison (for prisoners elsewhere in the state who require hospital facilities) about 10 miles from where I live that's nominally in a city, but it is built on about 160 acres, and the actual "inside the fence" area is a fraction of that, so while the microcell might bleed into the parking lot it could easily avoid any public areas beyond that. Just put up a sign at the entrance telling visitors their cell phone may not work past this point.

    Or hey, build the prison as a Faraday cage, with the microcells inside if guards need to use their cell phones within the prison. They are already built out of concrete and steel, adding some grounded mesh to it and the windows probably isn't going to add much expense, nor impede the normal operation of the prison. They'd be able to make calls when they're in the yard, but that's going to be harder to hide from the guards than doing it in their cells.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

      Why bother with the construction ?

      Just plug a cell phone jammer and be done with it.

      Honestly, I don't understand how jails do not take this precaution.

      Inmates get a cell phone ? Fine. They shouldn't be able to call, so jammer. Job done.

      You're in prison. There's no reason for you to be able to contact anyone outside of authorized channels.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

        Have you seen the cost of a call using the prison/jail phone system in the US? a 15 minute call is about $5.75

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

          Some hospital patient phone systems are like that too. It's genuinely criminal IMHO.

      2. Killfalcon Silver badge

        Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

        Well, mostly it's illegal to install phone jammers in most of the US (where this happened), for a bunch of reasons.

        Radio waves don't respect walls, and can go quite a way vertically - even if you don't have immediate neighbours, you'd have dark-zone cones over the place that messes with phones and some instruments in aircraft.

        The whitelisted approach towers still needs to deal with other cell towers in range - remember you need to block inmates, but not your neighbours, passing motorists, etc. There will be "normal" cells in range of most prisons (you can tell, they have phone coverage).

        The faraday cage thing might be more practical, but it may be an expensive retrofit. Probably cheaper over-all to randomly search the cells, since you're going to be doing that anyway for other contraband.

        (obviously we'd have the same problems over here, but possibly worse given how often our prisons are inside major cities. If there was a jammer running in Cardiff prison, it'd be jamming the local magistrates court, as well as most of the town centre...)

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

          The whitelisted approach towers still needs to deal with other cell towers in range

          Which is why I specifically mentioned the use of microcells. The prison would have its own cell towers that only reach within the prison's land, so people outside the prison's land would not be affected only those on the property who would connect to the prison's microcells would be subject to whitelisting.

          I agree that it is an expensive retrofit, I was thinking in terms of building in the Faraday cage when building new prisons. Or maybe when a wing undergoes major remodeling (i.e. has all the prisoners removed from it for extended renovation)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          it'd be jamming the local magistrates court

          That would probably make the judge pretty happy... no more interruptions!

      3. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

        "a cell phone jammer"

        You are heartless. How are prison staff supposed to make extra cash if they can't sell/smuggle phones to select prisoners?

    2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

      Cellphone base stations can have unexpected reach. When the first ones were being installed in the UK, raised roads such as the M25 enabled cellphones to connect to base stations all over the place. So putting one up in a prison, whether in the wilds of Dartmoor or central Manchester is still problematic as a means of controlling access by prisoners to mobile communications without disrupting members of the public.

      There was, a few years ago, a study to determine whether UK prisoners could be supplied with cellphones to allow them to phone home, their lawyers etc.. Contact with family helps prisoners remain calm and re-integrate into life after release. However, with many prisons in the UK being victorian with very thick walls, this was found to be basically unrealistic. There is also the difficulty of making a sufficiently robust handset (you don't want prisoners to break it open).

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

        Which is why I specifically stated use of microcells, which have much shorter range than a standard tower. The goal of a standard tower is maximizing reach (at least halfway to the nearest adjacent tower) while the goal of a microcell is coverage within a defined, limited area.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

      "Or hey, build the prison as a Faraday cage, with the microcells inside if guards need to use their cell phones within the prison."

      I've done some work inside high security prisons in the UK (the sort who contain inmates you might have heard of in the news). No mobile phones allowed at all. Prison staff also hand over everything not required for the job and go through the same metal detectors/x-ray units on the way in and out that everyone else goes through. Are US prisons not operated like this too?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why can't they solve this problem?

        Are US prisons not operated like this too?

        Given that the US prison system sees re-integration at best as a accidental byproduct (locking up people makes a LOT of money and provides legalised cheap labour) I'd venture the answer to your question is most likely "whatever makes the prison the most money".

        Metal detectors are expensive.

  3. PhilipN Silver badge

    Did you ask Cofield for a comment?

    Instead of his lawyer (who may not be on the clock for such incidental services)?

    Why not?

    Just call him.

  4. Securitymoose
    Facepalm

    It beggars belief...

    ...that some big companies can still be bamboozled by this sort of scam. What sort of people and systems do they employ, for goodness sake?

    1. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: It beggars belief...

      No systems, the way it works is this...

      How much does security cost?

      How much does insurance cost?

      Pick the cheaper.

      What is needed is responsibility & punishment for feeding cash to crims that cannot be added to "how much does security cost?"

    2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: It beggars belief...

      Sometimes the protection is 'no one should do that, we've set it up so they'd be guaranteed to get caught'. Sounds like this was just such a case.

      I haven't checked the details, but I suspect the bullion dealer is in a lot of trouble for facilitating money laundering.

      1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Re: It beggars belief...

        I doubt it, since the bullion dealer was likely told that this rich guy is buying gold as a hedge. He was probably just as surprised as anyone else.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: It beggars belief...

          That doesn't affect the KYC requirements.

  5. Lis

    Bloody hell

    "The real Kimmel had no knowledge of the transaction, which resulted in the purchase of 6,106 American Eagle gold coins."

    Wish I had that much money that I would not recognise an 11 million dollars withdrawal as "shouldn't have happened". I would recognise a "shouldn't have happened" 10 bob withdrawal

    1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Bloody hell

      You wouldn't notice a withdrawal from an investment account until you checked the statement\balance, and that's not something you'd have reason to do every day normally.

      1. david 12 Silver badge

        Re: Bloody hell

        If I had 11 million in an investment account, you can bet I'd be checking it every day. And smiling.

        1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

          Re: Bloody hell

          Nah, the novelty wears off after a few months.

  6. tekHedd

    Ethical search and seizure

    Well, there's a first: a newsworthy legal decision on device searches that doesn't scare the heck out of me. It actually seems reasonable and respects precedent. I wasn't even sure this was possible in the US any more.

    1. FILE_ID.DIZ
      Boffin

      Re: Ethical search and seizure

      Schools, K-12, are also a partially constitution free zone as well with respect to the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and I'm sure a few others if I thought about it a bit more.

  7. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

    Amazing

    All you have to do is fake a driver's license and steal a utility bill to get access to someone's millions. Suddenly .e PO box feels much more secure.

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