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Houston Woman Agrees to Plead Guilty to Defrauding Bank of America by Posing as Customer
Santa Ana, CA
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 agreement.

          Zorka specifically admitted to making a fraudulent withdrawal of approximately $6,500 at a Bank of America branch in Burbank.

          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 guilty pleas.

          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 theft offense.

          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.