A 41-year-old mother was sentenced Friday to 18 years in federal prison after being convicted of running a multi-state credit card and identity fraud scheme out of the back of a rental truck.
In April, a jury found Quinae Shamyra Stephens guilty of on all counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, identity theft, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle and felon in possession of a firearm.
A sentencing memo described Stephens as a “professional fraudster” and “charlatan” who has “spent her adult life stealing, lying, and cheating.”
Judge Sherri A. Lydon also sentenced Stephens to five years of court-ordered supervision. Stephens has been ordered to pay restitution to her victims, including a nurse and a stay at home mom who received bills for tens of thousands of dollars.
Her son and co-defendant, Deandre Allen Copes, 23, was sentenced to time served after pleading guilty to wire fraud and bank fraud, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As a result, he will serve no additional time in prison.
Copes testified against his mother at the trial after confessing the scheme to investigators. Despite assisting her in the crime spree, Copes was found to have received “virtually nothing in return” for helping his mom, according to court filings.
Stephens downloaded personal identifying information and instructions on how to commit credit card fraud and identity theft from the dark web, according to a statement put out by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Identity theft is a threat to every citizen, and the personal information of its victims can live on the dark web forever. The nearly two-decade federal prison sentence this Office sought and received showcases just how seriously we take these crimes,” said Adair Burroughs, the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina.
The mother and son began their crime spree in March 2021. They passed counterfeit checks at banks and grocery stores while driving a stolen U-Haul van down the East Coast. The duo manufactured stolen credit cards out of the back of their van, according the indictment. Stephens was still on probation in Georgia at the time for rental car theft and forgery.
When they were arrested five months later in Latta, Florida, police officers searching the van found a printer, blank paper for printing checks, stolen driver’s licenses and equipment for reading and manufacturing credit cards, according to the complaint. Stephens, a convicted felon, also was found in possession of a loaded handgun.
The Latta Police Department enlisted the Secret Service to help investigate the case, which was tried in Columbia, by assistant U.S. attorneys Derek A. Shoemake and Everett McMillian.
Evidence in the van alone led law enforcement to more than two dozen victims across the country and amounted to almost $300,000 in “loss and attempted loss,” according to a sentencing document.
The court also heard evidence that Stephens fraudulently obtained several Paycheck Protection Program loans using stolen identities, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In the lead up to her trial, Stephens asserted that she was a “sovereign citizen,” and therefore not subject to the court’s jurisdiction. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes sovereign citizens as a rapidly growing movement of individuals who believe that that they are not subject to the laws of the United States. The FBI has characterized financial crimes as being common in the sovereign citizen community.