Georgia Inmate Scams Billionaire For Over $11 Million In Wild Tale: Prosecutors
An inmate at a Georgia maximum security prison is accused of impersonating and stealing $11 million from a billionaire movie mogul, and may have scammed millions more out of other billionaires, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The story involves gold coins, a private plane, duffel bags stuffed with cash and a Buckhead mansion.
And it adds up to potentially one of the biggest heists ever pulled off from inside an American prison – made even more startling by the fact that the inmate was in the Georgia Department of Corrections’ Special Management Unit, a maximum security facility designed to house the state’s most hardened criminals. -AJC
The man, 31-year-old Arthur Lee Cofield Jr., assumed the identity of LA mogul Sidney Kimmel and stole $11 million from his Schwab account, according to federal agents and attorneys, who have spent more than two years sifting through evidence.
Kimmel is the CEO of Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, which was behind such films as "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Moneyball."
Cofield allegedly used contraband cell phones, with which he convinced customer service representatives at Schwab that he was Kimmel - who then transferred $11 million into an Idaho company for the purchase of 6,106 American Eagle one-ounce gold coins.
Then, Cofield allegedly arranged for a private plane to transport the coins to Atlanta, where someone used them to buy a $4.4 million house in Buckhead.
"Cofield was a shrewd, intelligent individual who could con you out of millions," said Jose Morales, who was the warden at the Special Management Unit when Cofield was there.
Cofield has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and money laundering. Two others, 65-year-old Eldridge Bennett and his 27-year-old daughter, Eliayah Bennett, have also pleaded not guilty to charges that they worked on the outside to further the scheme.
Little has been reported about the case since federal authorities first uncovered it in 2020. But recent court filings and other documents reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reveal significant new details, including the fact that Kimmel was the victim and that he may not be the only one. -AJC
"Mr. Cofield has figured out a way to access accounts belonging to high net worth individuals, frankly billionaires, located across the country,” said federal prosecutor, Scott McAfee during a December 2020 bond hearing, during which he added that the government had evidence that Cofield accessed an account belonging to the wife of Florida billionaire Herbert Wertheim - an optometrist worth $4 billion, stealing $2.25 million - which he also turned into gold coins. Criminal charges were not filed in that case.
According to the report, Georgia prison officials knew that Cofield - who was serving a 14-year sentence for armed robbery - had the ability to procure cell phones and use them for illegal activity. After allegedly ordering a shooting in Atlanta, Covield was moved from Georgia State Prison to the Special Management Unit after a warrant was issued for his arrest. In Oct. 2021 he was released from GDC custody, and was placed into federal custody where he remains.
Kimmel, 94, is worth $1.5 billion according to Forbes. Before becoming involved in Hollywood, he sold an apparel company he founded - Jones New York - for $2.2 billion.
Matthew Kamens, an attorney advising the billionaire told AJC that if there was fraud, the victim was Charles Schwab - not Kimmel.
"Mr. Kimmel was unaffected by whatever occurred, and we have no knowledge of what occurred, either in terms of background or context," Kamens wrote.
Schwab, meanwhile, said it has fully reimbursed Kimmel and alerted the authorities.
"As soon as Schwab was aware of suspected fraudulent activity, we launched an investigation, initiated measures to protect the client’s account and notified the authorities," the bank said in a statement.
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