|Attorney King Attacks Government’s desire to detain client
On his recent release of “Fast Life,” rising Chicago rapper Bandman Kevo brags about having it all — the girls, the guns, luxury cars, snazzy clothes and, of course, stacks of cold, hard cash.
But Kevo, whose real name is Kevin Ford, didn’t get there through his music alone, according to federal charges unveiled Wednesday.
Ford was one of 29 people charged in Illinois and Indiana in an elaborate “cracking cards” scheme, a modern twist on old-school check-kiting that authorities said has roots on Chicago’s South Side and is spreading to other cities through rap music, social media and college campus recruitment.
Ford’s attorney, Scott King, said his client may glorify a certain over-the-top lifestyle in his music but that that doesn’t mean it translated to criminal activity.
“The guy is a rapper,” King said Wednesday by telephone. “I don’t know if the government has ever listened to a rap song, but they’re typically not describing a Cub Scout meeting.”
The three-year joint investigation by federal agents, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and Chicago police first came to light last year when authorities charged Christopher Cain with stealing nearly $185,000 through a cracking card scheme, prosecutors said. Cain pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced last month to five years in prison.
In the typical cracking card scheme, leaders recruit often younger people willing to open bank accounts and hand over their debit card and personal identification number in return for promises of quick cash, prosecutors said. The schemers then deposit — or recruit someone else to deposit — bogus checks into the legitimate bank account, typically via an ATM transaction. After the bank credits the funds, usually within hours of the deposit, the cash is withdrawn at an ATM, a currency exchange or retail store, the charges allege.
At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said students at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb have been targeted for recruitment by card crackers, who often have ties to Chicago street gangs. Although no students have been criminally charged, Fardon said anyone who is approached with promises of fast cash should think twice before going along.
“Before anybody is turning over your debit card and your PIN to somebody who is not your mom or dad, you ought to be taking a hard swallow, making sure you know exactly what you are doing,” Fardon said.
The federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday alleged Ford and three co-defendants — Cortez Stevens, 24, of Griffith, Ind.; Stephen Garner, 23, of Portage, Ind., and Mikcale Smally, 21, of Chicago — led the card cracking scheme through a group they had formed called the “Rack Boyz.”
The Rack Boyz have Facebook and Twitter accounts and post videos on YouTube, including a rap video titled “For the Money,” which refers to cracking cards and shows the defendants wearing Rack Boyz shirts and displaying large amounts of cash, according to the charges.
Ford appeared in one video with the Rack Boyz and has posted numerous photos of himself online holding guns, flashing cash and wearing “expensive jewelry, Gucci items and other brand-name apparel,” the charges allege. He also posted photos of a Maserati sports car he owned that was seized by federal agents in a search warrant more than two years ago. He lives in a $4,000-a-month high-rise condo in the Loop, authorities said.
The charges allege that Ford sent out numerous Facebook messages seeking to recruit bank account holders into the cracking cards scheme.
In one message, Ford wrote, “You don’t know me but we can make some cash together my brother works at citi bank and he puts money on my account so I could do u a favor and have him put money on your account,” the charges allege.
The message promises up to $1,900 in profit per account provided that “u can do this every week No BS!” according to the charges.
Ford’s attorney said his client has been aware of the federal investigation for years. After he was charged in April 2012 with using stolen credit cards to obtain money orders from a Wal-Mart in Plymouth, Ind., Ford noticed federal agents tailing him and “circling the courthouse” whenever his case was up, according to King, who represented Ford in that case.
The local charges were later dropped, and the investigation was turned over to the FBI, according to the federal complaint.
By Jason Meisner,