ST. GEORGE —A magistrate judge took decisive action during a hearing held Thursday in U.S. District Court when eight defendants indicted in federal court appeared on a case involving an alleged fraud ring that bilked an elderly woman out of more than $300,000.
Eight individuals were indicted, including ringleader Frank Gene Powell, 51; his mother, Gloria Gene Powell; and girlfriend, Faye Renteria. Also indicted were a number of family members and associates, including Terrence Quincy Powell and Martell Taz Powell, along with associates Bubby Mern Shepherd, Rocky James Mott and Angela McDuffie.
Federal prosecutors provided a diagram of the familial relationships within the Powell family included in this report.
Frank Powell and Faye Renteria were initially indicted in November on one felony count of tampering with a witness, victim or informant, as federal prosecutors continued to build the case. At the end of January, prosecutors filed a superseding indictment that included all eight defendants that face a total of 37 charges between them.
The case is the result of a complicated scheme that prosecutors laid out in court documents.
Both Frank Powell and Reneria were each charged with wire fraud conspiracy, five counts of money laundering, two counts of destruction of records and tangible objects in a federal investigation and tampering with a witness, victim or an informant.
Frank Powell also faces a concealment of a document or object charge.
The case stems from an investigation into an alleged fraud ring that was exposed after police received reports that an elderly woman was being exploited in October of last year, where the defendants allegedly bilked the woman out of more than $300,000 in cash, checks and real property.
The transactions were discovered by a family member who was helping the woman reconcile her bank statements.
The case was taken over by federal prosecutors who outlined the complicated scheme in court documents.
During Renteria’s appearance Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Kohler, the defendant was advised that she would remain in custody until trial, at which point federal prosecutor Stephen Dent advised the court that protective orders would be filed in the case to prevent the defendants from reaching out to the elderly victim or her family, any witnesses or targets, or from having any contact with each other.
Dent also said the family has “their own language” and uses code words that only they understand, as well as using third parties or other means to contact each other.
Kohler said he was “concerned enough about witness tampering and obstruction of justice” to agree with the prosecutor, and he made a ruling mirroring the request until the protective orders were filed.
“If there are any attempts to get around my orders,” Kohler said to Renteria, “there are other means available, such as solitary confinement or similar conditions more miserable than the current ones.”
That ruling would be repeated seven more times as each defendant appeared before the court.
When Frank Powell entered the courtroom, he immediately looked directly at the gallery where a number of family members were seated, and he continued to stare directly at them until he was interrupted by Kohler.
“”You’re not focused on me. I need that to change,” Kohler said.
When the question of a bond hearing came up, the judge said, “I have detained Mr. Powell and I have no intention to change that.”
Terrance Powell, who posted bond and was not in custody, also appeared on one count of wire fraud consipiracy. Again, Kohler voiced his concerns and said with the defendant out on bond, there was the potential for evidence tampering or obstruction, and a bond hearing was scheduled in the case.
Kohler also remanded the defendant into the custody of the U.S. Marshal to be detained pending the outcome of the hearing.
Four of the five remaining defendants also appeared with counsel, while Shepherd, facing one wire fraud charge, was still in custody in California awaiting extradition.
Gloria Jean Powell, Frank Powell’s mother, faces wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering and tampering with a witness. Martell Taz Powell, Shepherd and Mott each face wire fraud, while Martell Powell also faces money laundering charges. Angela McDuffie faces one count of concealment of a document or object.
Charges were originally filed in 5th District Court in St. George, but federal authorities picked up the case after the FBI and Adult Probation and Parole reportedly became aware that they were attempting to persuade the elderly woman to help them avoid prosecution by withholding information from law enforcement.
Federal prosecutors allege that both Powell and Renteria engaged in a scheme to defraud the woman out of nearly $300,000. In addition to financial fraud, Frank Powell is accused of engaging in romance fraud by convincing the elderly woman to turn over the deed to her cabin in the Kolob area in Southern Utah under the guise that he planned to marry her — despite the fact that Powell was already in a long-term relationship with Renteria.
The tampering charge was set in motion Nov. 7 when Powell called Renteria from prison and expressed frustration over her “lack of effort in fighting to get their assets back from police custody or other locations” and then instructed her to go to the widow’s residence and remove three vehicles from the property and sell them before they could be seized and to hide assets derived during the alleged fraud scheme.
Four of the five suspects involved in the alleged scheme were arrested Oct. 10, including Renteria, who was apprehended after leaving the cabin when her vehicle was stopped by police; however, Powell remained at large.
Law enforcement tracked Powell to California where he was arrested Oct. 15 after crashing his car and fleeing from Lodi City Police officers. He was held in a California jail until he was extradited back to Utah in December.
The case is scheduled for a two-week trial that starts April 7.
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