A Kentucky woman who defrauded banks in Bozeman and Livingston in a cross-country cash-advance scheme will spend more than two years in federal prison.
Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull on Wednesday sentenced Patience D. Isaacs, 22, of McKee, Ky., to 27 months, which was the low end of the guideline range, and ordered her to pay $55,000 in restitution.
Isaacs and co-defendant Kevin James Dixon, of California, were arrested in 2007 at a Steelers football game in Pittsburgh after law enforcement got a tip.
The judge gave Isaacs some "fatherly advice," telling her that if she kept hanging around people like Dixon, "you're going to have a higher criminal history."
Isaacs had no criminal record until she met up with Dixon in Montana and carried out a scheme in which she defrauded 11 banks in the Bozeman and Livingston areas and others when she left Montana and headed east.
Federal charges against Dixon in Montana were dismissed, and he was sent to California, where he is under federal indictment in Sacramento on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Wolff said Dixon declined an offer to face only the Montana charges if he cooperated. Isaacs was never willing to cooperate against Dixon, he said.
Dixon worked with two others in a bigger bank fraud scheme that used cash-advance methods to steal money from the Montana banks and other banks, according to court records. The others have been indicted on bank fraud charges in Sacramento.
In the scheme, Isaacs would present a bank with a credit or debit card for a cash advance of less than $10,000. When the card was swiped and declined, Isaacs would tell the bank employee to call a customer service number she provided. The purported customer service agent would then provide codes that would override the card machine and Isaacs would get the cash she requested.
The Montana banks lost more than $60,000. Isaacs went to six Bozeman banks in one day. She and Dixon left Montana and allegedly used the scheme at nine other banks in Wyoming, Oregon, Minnesota, Indiana and Kentucky. Losses totaled more than $139,000, Wolff said.
The FBI notified the public it was looking for the pair, and 14 days later they were arrested at the football game.
Isaacs pleaded guilty in October to bank fraud. She made no statement at sentencing Wednesday.
The prosecutor and the judge said Isaacs seemed to be under Dixon's influence.
"I don't think she has as much to do with this as she claims," Cebull said.
"She's covering for this guy Dixon," Wolff said.
FBI Special Agent Greg Rice, of Bozeman, testified about the broader scheme, which was investigated by the Secret Service and led to a ring led by gang members in Sacramento, he said.
The leaders recruited "mules" to go into banks and get money using the cash-advance scheme, Rice said. The ring leaders would get 60 to 70 percent of proceeds while the mules, like Isaacs, would get a smaller percentage. The scheme "spread like a disease across the country," he said.