East Liberty man pleads guilty to bank fraud of tech billionaire

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An AWOL Army private whose education ended with a few months at a community college used a public computer's search engine and a phone to briefly obtain access to the bank account of one of the world's wealthiest men, he confirmed at his guilty plea hearing today.

"I don't remember exactly everything, every single thing," Brandon Lee Price, 29, of East Liberty told U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry.

Pressed on whether a prosecutor's detailed account of his efforts was accurate, he said, "Yes."

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wilson said that Mr. Price's efforts began in late 2011, when he used a public computer to search out information on Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, apparently including part or all of the billionaire's social security number and account numbers, his date of birth and his mailing address.

In late December 2011, in a series of phone calls to Citibank, Mr. Price convinced customer service representatives that he was Mr. Allen and had lost his debit card, did not want to report it stolen, but simply sought a replacement -- mailed to an address on East Liberty's Station Street, according to Mr. Wilson.

Mr. Price had his own address and phone number added to Mr. Allen's account information, Mr. Wilson said. On Jan. 13, 2012, he received a debit card tapping Mr. Allen's account, and promptly paid off a $658.81 loan he had outstanding with an Army lending institution, the prosecutor said.

From that date through late February, Mr. Price tried, but failed, to tap Mr. Allen's account for $15,000 in cash, $278.18 in games from GameStop, a $1 purchase from a Family Dollar store, transfers of $94,000 and $800,000 to an Army account, $388,000 in mutual fund investments, $250,000 in bank certificates of deposit, and more, with a grand total of more than $1.6 million in fraudulent attempts, Mr. Wilson said.

Store surveillance captured Mr. Price, in an Army windbreaker, trying to buy things on the dates of the attempted purchases. A search of his home resulted in the recovery of the windbreaker and other clothing items.

The maximum penalty for the resulting charges of bank fraud is 30 years, but federal sentences for fraud are based largely on the defendant's history and the amount stolen.

Mr. Price's attorney, assistant federal public defender Jay Finkelstein, said the sentence should be based on the $658.81 successfully obtained.

Mr. Wilson said it should be based on the $1.6 million that Mr. Price sought.

Mr. Price remains on bond until sentencing. Judge McVerry scheduled the sentencing for Sept. 30.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord. First Published June 27, 2013 11:00 AM


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