The Washington Post

Driver took drunk people home, and took their credit cards

A Maryland man pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court on Monday to a scheme in which he picked up drunk young adults in popular D.C. neighborhoods, convinced them he was a taxi driver and stole their credit cards.

Nyerere Mitchell, 50, convinced more than 60 people to get into his silver SUV Range Rover between April 2009 and November 2013, prosecutors said. He often drove around DuPont Circle, Adams Morgan, Foggy Bottom, Chinatown and other sections of the District and Arlington where he could count on finding many people who were usually intoxicated.

Once the riders were in Mitchell’s vehicle, typically believing that it was a taxi, he would head to drive-through ATMs on Wisconsin Avenue or Pennsylvania Avenue. He would tell his passengers that they needed to tell him their PINs, since only the driver could reach the banking machine and he needed to withdraw money for their taxi fares.

The victims believed Mitchell was withdrawing $10 to $40 to pay for their taxi rides. In fact, he often took hundreds of dollars. He sometimes handed back a bank card that looked similar to the victim’s card, one that he had stolen from an earlier passenger, so that the victim did not notice his or her own card had been stolen.

Mitchell would then purchase money orders to deposit in his own account or make large purchases on the victim’s card over the next several days. Once the victim figured out that the card had been stolen and deactivated it, Mitchell would hand off the inactive card to another passenger.

In total, Mitchell said in the plea agreement that he took more than $200,000.

When police searched Mitchell’s home in Clinton, Md., in November, they found more than 200 credit cards in a shoe box.

Police also found a wig that Mitchell wore in bank surveillance videos.

In interviews that are recounted in court documents, many of the victims say they do not remember how they got home, or they recall getting into the car of a woman while intoxicated. William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C., said that victims may have felt more comfortable getting into Mitchell’s car because he appeared to be a woman, with the wig and padded breasts.

Other passengers said they were aware that Mitchell was a man in a wig. Jason Kalafat, Mitchell’s defense attorney, said that Mitchell’s dress was “more of a lifestyle issue” and not meant to trick victims into a false sense of security. “The government believes that played a part in it. I don’t believe, based on the information that I have, that that was actually intended as part of the scheme.”

Mitchell agreed to pay back $228,036 in restitution. He could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each of the five felony counts of fraud that he pleaded guilty to, but Kalafat said he expects a sentence in the guideline range of probation to 60 months. He will be sentenced in October, and he will be incarcerated until his sentencing.

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Julie Zauzmer is a local news reporter.



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