CHRISTOPHER L. KEEL, age 52, of Tampa, Florida, pleaded guilty on June 14, 2023 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and false impersonation of an employee or officer of the United States, arising from his actions to defraud elderly victims in Louisiana and Washington State, announced U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans. United States District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle scheduled KEEL’S sentencing for October 11, 2023.
According to court documents, KEEL was arrested on April 4, 2022, by Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies in Hammond, Louisiana, while attempting to defraud a 77-year-old woman identified as “Victim A.” Deputies had received an earlier report from the victim’s son, that his mother had been contacted by people posing as U.S. Department of Treasury agents. These “agents” told Victim A that she should withdraw money from her bank accounts and send it to them for safekeeping because her accounts had been allegedly implicated in fraud or money laundering. Beginning in early March 2022, Victim A transferred approximately $60,000 via Green Dot cards to the “agents.” The agents also instructed Victim A to give an additional $60,000 to another “agent” on April 3rd. Victim A complied and handed over this sum to the “agent”, later identified as KEEL, at a mall in Hammond. The next day, the perpetrators called Victim A and instructed her to withdraw the remaining funds from her accounts and hand them over as well. Victim A’s bank contacted her son, who then called the police.
While deputies met with Victim A on April 4th, the “agents” called her again and gave her instructions to hand over the rest of her money. Deputies arranged a sting operation and arrested KEEL after he approached Victim A in the mall parking lot. Victim A identified KEEL as the same man she met with the prior day. Deputies seized acell phone and hotel receipts from KEEL.
Agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) continued the investigation and learned that KEEL and a co-conspirator, had both traveled to New Orleans within the past 48 hours on plane tickets purchased with the same credit card. They flew from Seattle, where agents identified another victim (“Victim B”). Victim B, a 76-year-old woman, had been defrauded of $300,000. A search of KEEL’S phone showed that he sent a photograph of a box with Victim B’s name and address on it. Victim B said she used this box to deliver her money to the “agent” she met with in Tukwila, Washington.
HSI Agents also identified another victim (“Victim C”), an 80-year-old woman living in Bossier Parish, Louisiana. Agents learned that Victim C had withdrawn $36,000 from her account because purported federal “agents” called and told her that her accounts had been compromised. However, prior to delivering the money, local police were contacted and waited at her home. Police observed a vehicle circle near Victim C’s house then depart. An officer recorded the vehicle’s license plate. Later, HSI Agents obtained rental records showing that the vehicle had been leased by a co-conspirator at the time of the attempted fraud.
The search of KEEL’S cell phone revealed his contacts with other co-conspirators dating back to 2021, and his travel to other states, including Texas and Oklahoma, to further the conspiracy. HSI and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents determined that, since October 2021, KEEL and his co-conspirators caused approximately $4,498,327 in actual and attempted losses to 31 victims located throughout the United States.
KEEL pleaded guilty to both counts of the superseding indictment pending in this case. As to Count 1, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, KEEL faces a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, up to a $1,000,000.00 fine or the greater of twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any person under Title 18, United States Code, Section 3571, followed by up to three years of supervised release, and a mandatory $100 special assessment fee. As to Count 2, false impersonation of an officer or employee of the United States, KEEL faces a maximum penalty of three years of imprisonment, up to a $250,000.00 fine or the greater of twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any person under Title 18, United States Code, Section 3571, followed by up to one year of supervised release, and a mandatory $100 special assessment fee.
U.S. Attorney Evans praised the work of the Homeland Security Investigations New Orleans Field Office in investigating this matter. U.S. Attorney Evans also thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Detroit Field Office,) the Homeland Security Investigations (Seattle Field Office,) the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in this successful prosecution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew R. Payne, Senior Litigation Counsel, is in charge of the prosecution.
Source: Department of Justice