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Wu-Tang Scam: Man sent to prison for faking ties to rap group so he could bilk hotels for thousands

Jay-Z, the founder of Roc Nation, in New York City on Jan. 23, 2019. A Florida man was sentenced to seven years Tuesday for a fraud scheme in which he pretended to be with Roc Nation to reserve 10 rooms at a hotel in Augusta, Ga. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

A Florida man is facing hard-knock time for pretending to be associated with famous hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company.

Aaron Barnes-Burpo, 29, of Crestview, Fla., was sentenced to seven years in federal prison Monday after his guilty plea for committing wire fraud, according to David H. Estes, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

Barnes-Burpo and co-conspirator Walker Washington, 52, who is awaiting sentencing, ran their scam for several weeks, Estes said.

The swindlers’ triumph came to a halt Nov. 21, 2019, when their so-simple deception seemed off to hotel staff at a Fairfield Inn and Suites in Augusta, Ga.

Barnes-Burpo claimed to be with Roc Nation, an entertainment and management company founded by Jay-Z, when he tried to book 10 rooms and have a $2,500 credit applied to a king suite for an artist and his entourage, according to the complaint. He would provide a credit card number for authorization as long as they didn’t charge it, he told staffers, because he was planning to pay with a certified check at the end of the stay. emailed the hotel with a credit authorization form that showed the credit card was linked to a Kansas address and identified the guest as “Rocnation/WuTangClan,” according to court documents.

The hotel’s director of sales noticed the same group had tried to book rooms weeks before. She called a legal representative at Roc Nation, who confirmed that the entertainment agency had received several calls about the scam from four or five hotels.

After verifying that the card was stolen, FBI Special Agent Jonathan Escobar and other authorities traveled to the hotel to watch the suspects in action.

When Barnes-Burpo tried to check in the next day under the Roc Nation reservation, he and others were detained. Barnes-Burpo still claimed he was employed with Roc Nation and explained that he didn’t make the reservation. He simply used his cellphone to speak with representatives at Roc Nation who do the actual booking, he said, according to the federal complaint. He was arrested.

A search of Barnes-Burpo’s vehicle led authorities to discover keys from hotels across the country and paper that had credit card numbers written on it. Multiple lists of record labels and their personnel were scribbled on papers, court records state. Authorities were also able to uncover online log-in credentials for the operation that had simple passwords such as rocnation123.

A search of Barnes-Burpo’s cellphone showed how expansive the scam was, as agents found photographs and screenshots of information used to defraud businesses.

Shortly after Barnes-Burpo’s arrest, a woman contacted federal agents about how she and her cousins had been recruited by Barnes-Burpo and Washington in Alabama for $2,000 worth of services for which they were never compensated. She also sent a 2014 article detailing Washington’s arrest for pretending to be a rapper and defrauding hotels.

Barnes-Burpo has been ordered to pay nearly $300,000 to 19 businesses he defrauded, and he is required to serve three years of supervised release after finishing his prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.

Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of the Atlanta office of the FBI, said he hopes the hoodwinked businesses will be able recoup some of their losses as a result of the sentence.

“This is what happens when you seek a fleeting moment of fame at the expense of others,” he said.

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