A licensed attorney in the District of Columbia pleaded guilty to a three-year fraud scheme responsible for at least $3.5 million in fraudulent transactions. The attorney reportedly purchased the credentials of her victims on the darkweb.
According to an announcement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 41-year-old Tricia Steele Boutros pleaded guilty to wire fraud on May 1. Boutros reportedly accessed the darkweb frequently and purchased stolen bank account credentials on darkweb marketplaces. She then used the credentials to access at least 30 different bank accounts from more than ten different financial institutions.
Boutros admitted that after gaining access to her victim’s accounts, she transferred money from the accounts to accounts she controlled and through entities she had established, such as her law firm, Steele Legal. She also wrote fraudulent cheques that were payable to herself, her entities, and to her creditors. To facilitate the transfer of the fraudulent funds to her benefit, Boutros also opened fraudulent bank accounts in her victim’s names.
According to the criminal complaint, the investigation into Boutros began in April 2019 after two people reported that their identities had been stolen in 2017. The couple told the FBI that two of their bank accounts had numerous unauthorized ACH withdrawals. The accounts also had several fraudulent cheques deposited into accounts at other financial institutions.
The FBI then investigated the fraudulent bank accounts Boutros had opened under the couple’s names. While examining one of the bank accounts opened Boutros had opened on August 2, 2017, the FBI found that Boutros had registered the account with an address associated with Steele Legal, Boutros' law firm.
Boutros also used her home I.P. address to access some of the stolen accounts:
The internet protocol (“IP”) address 220.127.116.11 was used on August 6, 2017, to apply to open the TIAA account in the name of [victim 1] and the joint account in the names of [victim 2] and [victim 3]. The IP address 18.104.22.168 was used on August 9, 2017, to access TIAA accounts -8012 and -1415. These two IP addresses belonged to Verizon and were assigned to Boutros' residence, 475 K Street NW, Unit 1103, Washington, D.C., on those specified dates. During Boutros' interview with FBI agents, Boutros said that she lived alone.
The FBI questioned Boutros. She told the investigators that Steele Legal was a “cloud-based” law firm that had no employees and no payroll system. On May 29, 2019, the FBI executed a search warrant at Boutros’ home in Washington, D.C., and seized several chequebooks for the fraudulent bank accounts. The cheques displayed the couple’s names and Steele’s home address.
The FBI acquired an arrest warrant for Boutros in 2019. They executed the warrant on October 28, 2019. The The arrest led to the stoppage or reversal of some of Boutros’ $3.5 million fraudulent transactions.
Boutros admitted that she had obtained between $1.3 million and $2.2 million from the fraud scheme. She will be sentenced on September 16, 2020.