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Former Bank Manager, Auto Dealer Convicted of Bank Fraud

June 07, 2010

HOUSTON — A former bank branch manager and an auto dealer pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud a Houston-area bank of more than $2.5 million through a check kiting scheme, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

Houston area residents Matthew Robbins, 32, a former Wachovia Bank branch manager, and Thin Viet Tieu, 45, an auto dealer and customer of Wachovia Bank, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud arising from a check kiting scheme before United States District Judge David Hittner at a hearing this morning.

At today’s hearing, Robbins and Tieu admitted working together to defraud Robbins’ former employer, Wachovia Bank, of $2,500,000 between June 1, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2009. As a bank branch manager, Robbins was responsible for approving the sale of official checks drawn on the account of Wachovia Bank, in exchange for cash or a check given to Wachovia Bank by its customer. Official checks are equivalent to cashier’s checks, in which the bank certifies the funds are available to pay the check from funds drawn on the bank’s account.

Despite having been ordered by the bank’s president not to allow Tieu to purchase official checks from Wachovia Bank, Robbins nonetheless instructed his employees to allow Tieu to purchase several with business checks drawn on accounts Tieu had at other banks. Tieu, in turn, deposited the official checks into business accounts he maintained at banks other than Wachovia. At Tieu’s request, Robbins held the business checks issued by Tieu for several days. In the meantime, Tieu withdrew the funds and used them to operate his business and for personal expenses.

When Robbins eventually attempted to negotiate Tieu’s business checks payable to Wachovia Bank, the checks were returned due to insufficient funds. In exchange for his participation in the conspiracy, Robbins bought a vehicle from Tieu for a price significantly below market value.

The investigation leading to the charges was initiated by the FBI in 2009 after Wachovia discovered the theft. 

Both Robbins and Tieu face up to 30 years in prison without parole and fines up to $1,000,000 as well as having to pay restitution to Wachovia Bank. Judge Hittner has set sentencing for Sept. 13, 2010. Robbins and Tieu have been permitted to remain free on bond pending sentencing.

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