Attorney pleads guilty to fraud conspiracy and filing false tax return


Date: January 20, 2022


Raleigh, NC — A Durham attorney pleaded guilty today conspiracy to commit multiple fraud schemes and filing a false federal income tax return.

Tiffany Dawn Russell was originally indicted in November 2020 for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, access device fraud, and misuse of a social security number.  According to the Indictment, Russell and her co-conspirators applied for loans and credit cards with social security numbers that were not issued to them by the Social Security Administration. By doing so, they created new credit profiles or synthetic identities for themselves to open financial accounts and make purchases from retailers without any intention of paying for the items and services obtained. Russell was charged with using a synthetic identity to purchase a BMW and to obtain a credit card which she used to pay for her 2016 butt augmentation surgery.

Co-conspirators Rahne Cooper and Darius Hinton previously pled guilty to committing bank fraud for their illegal use of synthetic identities.

Russell agreed to plead guilty to participating in an extensive, multi-year conspiracy to obtain more than $2.5 million from at least 12 financial institutions and the United States Small Business Administration. According to the government, Russell used a synthetic identity because she had poor credit. Beginning in August 2017, Russell embarked on a new scheme, known as credit washing, to remove legitimate debt accounts from her credit history by falsely claiming she was the victim of identity theft and had not opened those accounts. Once the credit reporting agencies removed those accounts, her credit score improved, enabling her to obtain credit. She and her unnamed co-conspirators continued to make these false claims of identity theft, demanding the credit reporting agencies remove newly opened accounts. As a result, financial institutions relied on these washed credit reports in deciding whether to extend her credit.

Russell also provided fabricated documents when applying for mortgages to purchase three properties, including an oceanfront residence in Nags Head, North Carolina. Russell gave doctored bank statements and inflated pay stubs to make it appear she had substantial liquid assets and the ability to pay the loans.

Finally, between March 30, 2020 and June 29, 2020, Russell and others fraudulently obtained more than $1,000,000 in loans under the CARES Act, which was enacted by Congress to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. The ten loan applications, including two for her law firm, contained false representations relating to the number of employees, monthly payroll, revenue, and expenses.

Russell used these illegally obtained proceeds to make the down payment on the Nags Head property and purchase the five other properties in North Carolina, Maryland and Alabama. Russell also used these ill-gotten gains to pay outstanding personal debt, unrelated to any business entity.

"This case is about a North Carolina attorney who funded her lavish lifestyle with an array of frauds," commented U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. "She took advantage of the global pandemic to fraudulently secure over a million dollars in COVID relief funds, a crime that hurts all taxpayers. The case is also another reminder that it is illegal to defraud banks using so-called "Credit Profile Numbers," "Credit Privacy Numbers," or "Credit Protection Numbers," (CPNs) or other tricks. It is a federal crime with the potential to yield years in federal prison. Our office will continue to prioritize economic crimes, particularly crimes against taxpayers and government programs intended for those in need."

"There is one word that describes the defendant's action: Greed," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Brian G. Thomas of IRS-Criminal Investigation's Charlotte Field Office. "The American tax system is based on a voluntary compliance and the government is designed to provide services to people in need. IRS special agents work diligently to identify, investigate, and recommend prosecution on criminals who take advantage of the system. In Ms. Russell's case, her desire and fraudulent zealous sprees for personal luxuries were obtained by defrauding the system."

"Tiffany Russell's website says, 'she knew at an early age that she had a passion for helping people.' Unfortunately, at some point she lost sight of that noble vision and began to help herself to other people's money, including $1 million from the federal CARES act intended to help business owners. The FBI and our partners will always work to ensure no one misuses the systems in place to help honest people succeed," said Robert R. Wells, FBI Special Agent in Charge.

Russell pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Mail, Wire and Financial Institution Fraud for which she faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine. She faces an additional three years in prison and $250,000 fine for Filing a False Tax Return. When Russell is sentenced during the 4/18/2022 term of court, the court must impose a mandatory restitution order of $2,041,605 to the victim financial institutions, the Small Business Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. As part of her plea agreement, Russell consented to the forfeiture of an additional $2,019.571 to the United States.

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert T. Numbers II accepted the plea. The Internal Revenue Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan B. Menzer is prosecuting the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:20-cr-00505-D-3.