SANTA ANA, California
– A Houston woman has agreed to plead
guilty to federal charges stemming from a scheme in which she and a
second defendant posed as customers of Bank of America to fraudulently
obtain debit cards while wearing braces on their arms to explain why
their signatures differed from those of the legitimate account holders.
In a plea agreement filed Saturday in United States
District Court, Rhonda Denise Zorka, 54, agreed to plead guilty to one
count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
The second defendant in this case – Leia Kay Barnett, 41,
of Belville, Texas – pleaded guilty on January 31 to one count of bank
fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
In her plea agreement, Zorka admitted that she and Barnett
obtained stolen identities of Bank of America accountholders living in
Florida. Zorka admitted that she and Barnett then separately went to
Bank of America branches in Southern California and Illinois, where they
presented fraudulent identification to obtain temporary debit cards and
PINs, and withdrew funds from victims’ accounts.
“[Zorka] and Barnett wore braces over their right wrists
and forearms in order to explain any differences between their
signatures at the time of the withdrawal and the actual accountholder’s
signature on file with [Bank of America],” according to the plea
Zorka specifically admitted to making a fraudulent
withdrawal of approximately $6,500 at a Bank of America branch in
She also admitted that the scheme caused Bank of America to
suffer losses of $121,949 through more than 50 withdrawals on more than
30 accounts at over 20 branches in California and Illinois.
When Barnett pleaded guilty, she specifically admitted
making a fraudulent withdrawal of approximately $5,500 from a Bank of
America branch in Irvine.
United States District Judge Josephine L. Staton will
schedule a hearing – likely in June – for Zorka to formally enter her
Barnett is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Staton on August 28.
Zorka and Barnett each will face a statutory maximum
sentence of 30 years in federal prison for the bank fraud charge and a
mandatory, consecutive two-year sentence for the aggravated identity
Barnett has been in federal custody since her arrest in
Texas in June 2019. Zorka has been in custody since she was arrested in
October 2019 in Illinois.
This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Daniel S. Lim of the Santa Ana Branch Office.