Gaithersburg Woman Convicted for Fraud Related to a Debt Elimination Scheme

The Defendants Used Fraudulent Debt Elimination Classes to Financially Defraud Victims and Obtain Their Personal Identifying Information

Per the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Maryland– A federal jury returned guilty verdicts yesterday convicting Willie Lamont Hicks, a/k/a “Will Woodward” and “CW,” age 50, of Kansas City, Missouri, and Mary Ann Mendoza, a/k/a “Mary Ann Manuel,” “Trinity,” “M3,” and “Emily James,” age 49, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, on federal charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud related to a debt elimination and wealth management fraud scheme.

According to the evidence presented at their seven-day trial, from August 2011 to at least September 2017, Hicks and Mendoza, who represented themselves as partners and as husband and wife, held in-person trainings purporting to educate victim-debtors on how to discharge consumer debt, including mortgage debt, credit card debt, and automobile financing debt.  Hicks and Mendoza also marketed wealth management services to victims, including purporting to set up a family office and to fund business opportunities.

As detailed in trial testimony, during the debt elimination classes, Hicks, who claimed to be an attorney, and Mendoza told victims that on the back of their social security cards and birth certificates, there was a number that unlocked access to a special bank account with funds owed to the victims by the U.S. government.  The defendants also informed the victim-debtors that they could create or use “trusts” into which they could transfer their assets without transferring any attendant consumer debt, or to obtain return on investment.

The evidence proved that Hicks, Mendoza, and their co-conspirators offered to effectuate the discharge of the debt held by the victims or other purported services for a fee, including a fee equal to a percentage of the victim-debtors’ outstanding debt.  The defendants accepted payment in the form of cash, wire transfers, personal and cashier’s checks, and the use of the victim-debtors’ credit.  Victim-debtors also paid the defendants through liquidating their retirement savings, the leasing of apartments, and the purchase of vehicles and office equipment and supplies.  Hicks and Mendoza caused one victim to transfer almost $100,000 from the victim’s bank account to fraudulent corporate entities controlled by the defendants in 2017, including by interstate wire transfer.  Trial testimony showed that victim-debtors were induced into providing the defendants with over a million dollars in cash and other forms of payment during the period of the conspiracy.

According to the evidence also presented at trial, Hicks, Mendoza, and their co-conspirators used the victims’ personal identifying information without the victims’ knowledge or permission and provided the victims with fraudulent documents, including Internal Revenue Service forms, memorandums of agreement, intake forms, and other materials that the defendants claimed were necessary for discharging debt.  The evidence showed that Hicks, Mendoza, and their co-conspirators mailed the fraudulent paperwork to the victim-debtors’ creditors, lenders, and the Internal Revenue Service purporting to effectuate the discharge of the victim’s debts.

The defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud and a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for each of four counts of wire fraud.  U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang has scheduled sentencing for defendant Hicks for January 11, 2024, at 9:30 a.m., and for defendant Mendoza for January 12, 2024, at 9:30 a.m.

The conviction was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Special Agent in Charge Guy Petrillo of the Mid-Atlantic Region – Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General; Special Agent in Charge Javan Wilson of the U.S. Department of the Treasury – Office of Inspector General; Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy; and Chief Marcus Jones of the Montgomery County Police Department.


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