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Georgetown bank teller stole $185,000 from homeless customer with garbage bag of cash

A 29-year-old bank teller stole more than $185,000 from a homeless customer who tried to deposit a garbage bag full of cash at a Wells Fargo branch in Georgetown, according to court filings and attorneys in the case.

In a deal with prosecutors, Phelon Davis of District Heights, Md., pleaded guilty Thursday to one federal felony count of interstate transportation of stolen property, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The victim was unnamed in court filings but was described as a homeless street vendor and longtime Wells Fargo customer who had more than one account that had gone dormant because of a lack of activity.

Court filings did not identify the customer or say why a homeless person would have a large amount of cash in a bag when he showed up at the M Street NW branch where Davis worked. Outside the courtroom, Davis’s attorney, Bruce Allen Johnson Jr., said he also did not know how the individual came to have the cache of cash. “That’s the million-dollar question,” Johnson said.

In plea papers, Davis acknowledged that the customer had “thousands of dollars of cash” that he wanted to deposit in October 2014, but he lacked identification. Davis told the customer where to get ID documents and a Social Security card, and also noted the customer “had a surprisingly large balance with the bank,” according to a signed, three-page statement of the crime.

A look at several failed ATM theft attempts. (Video: The Washington Post)

On two consecutive days that October, Davis fraudulently opened a new account by forging the customer’s signature, set up an ATM card, personal identification number, email address and online logon that Davis controlled, and funded the account with $3,000 from one of the customer’s other accounts, according to the court filing.

Over the next two years, the filing disclosed, Davis transferred $177,400 between the customer’s accounts, withdrew $185,440, and transported at least $5,000 from automated teller machines in the District across state lines to his home in Maryland, the basis of the federal charge.

The customer did not receive mailed statements, use email or have access to a computer and so remained oblivious. The customer could see the balance of only one of the checking accounts at an ATM, Davis and prosecutors agreed.

Davis used the stolen money for the down payment on his home, to pay off personal debt, and to fund vacations in Aruba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Court documents did not say how Davis was caught. He was charged July 19.

As part of his plea, Davis agreed to pay back the stolen money, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kondi J. Kleinman said he would likely face a sentence of 18 to 30 months under federal guidelines. U.S. District Judge Emmett G. Sullivan of the District would be free to go higher or lower.

“Did you, in fact, take money from an account as Mr. Kleinman described?” U.S. Magistrate Robin M. Meriweather asked in the Thursday plea hearing.

“Yes, ma’am, I did,” said the soft-spoken Davis.

Davis’s attorney, Johnson, said outside of court that “he greatly regrets the decisions he made and is dedicated to doing everything he can to make it right, including restitution. He is putting everything aside to repay the money and do what he can to repair what he’s done to his name, his reputation and to the victim.”

A sentencing date has not been set.

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