Monday, August 26, 2013

Los Angeles Podiatrist Sentenced To Twenty-Four Months For His Role In Identity Theft And Bank Fraud To Obtain Money For His Medical Practice

Professionals, like anyone else, can make huge judgment and professional errors -- especially when it comes to making their practice financially viable during difficult times.  One recent case shows how one medical professional, a podiatrist, was charged criminally due to desparate measures.

On June 24, 2013, podiatrist Dr. Bill Releford, who founded the Releford Foot and Ankle Institute, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for his conviction on federal fraud charges related to a bank fraud scheme that used stolen identities to cause two financial institutions to suffer $3 million in losses. Dr. Releford specifically admitted in his plea agreement that he participated in the scheme to obtain money for his medical practice, which had offices in Beverly Hills and Inglewood.

Dr. Releford and five other co-defendants operated a scheme to defraud financial institutions by using stolen identities to establish business lines of credit which were fraudulently drawn down to provide money that was used for their personal expenses. After obtaining stolen personal identifying information – including dates of birth, Social Security numbers, credit profiles and driver’s license numbers from victims with high credit scores, including another physician from Pasadena – members of the conspiracy submitted fraudulent applications for business lines of credit to various banks. Once the applications were approved, the defendants liquidated the credit lines.

Over the course of the scheme, Dr. Releford helped the other defendants open at least two credit lines that provided funds for Dr. Releford’s medical practice. Dr. Releford also attempted to open a third credit line valued at up to $500,000, which he planned to use to fund a clothing business. Dr. Releford further participated in the scheme by helping to launder thousands of dollars from other fraudulently obtained credit lines. Dr. Releford had a minor role and two of his co-defendants went to trial, and their sentences were significantly longer (one received 88 months). 

In addition to the prison term, Judge Hatter ordered Releford to pay $218,237 in restitution and a $10,000 fine. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Hatter noted Dr. Releford’s attempts to rehabilitate himself – such as Releford’s offer to immediately pay $1,500 in restitution and his recent participation in charitable projects – and said this effort spared Releford from a longer prison sentence. It is therefore notable that post-offense rehabilitation is important at sentencing and even if defendants cannot pay the entire amount of restitution, efforts to make payments can be recognized at sentencing.  

Posted by Tracy Green


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