Members used Michael Jordan's jersey number in scam

Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) _ Seven members of a group known by authorities as the ''23-Cent gang'' were sentenced to prison by a federal judge Tuesday.

Federal investigators gave the group its name based on its tendency to write fraudulent checks ending with the amount of 23 cents.

The group chose the number because it is the jersey number of former pro basketball player Michael Jordan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Camille Domingue said.

The group obtained $592,000 in cash by using copies of stolen checks made with computers, said an indictment returned last year. They pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy charges.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty told one of the group members, George Arkansas, 32, of Shreveport, that she would have sentenced him to the maximum five-year prison term if the government had not advised her of his assistance in the investigation.

But Arkansas appeared angry that he received a sentence of 29 months. He contended he should get a sentence of two or three months for his cooperation.

``I did everything in my possibility,'' he said.

The judge told Arkansas his criminal history increased his prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. She told Arkansas he should use his prison time to learn a trade.

``You have not grown to realize that breaking the law is not a path you need to go down,'' she said. ``If you don't stop, you're going to end up dying in prison.''

Other defendants sentenced Tuesday by Doherty were:

The group's ringleader, Eric ``Livewire'' White, 38, of Shreveport, sentenced to 32 months in prison and ordered to pay $500,000 restitution. His state parole was revoked and, after serving his federal sentence, he must serve three years of state prison time.

Arkansas' brother, Edward Arkansas, 33, of Shreveport, received a 33-month prison sentence.

Toney Branch, 31, of Shreveport, sentenced to two years in prison.

Shedrick Givens, 39, of New Orleans, sentenced to 35 months.

Monica Cofield, 26, of Baton Rouge, sentenced to a year in a halfway house.

Keith Pierce, 34, of New Orleans, sentenced to one year.

According to the indictment, returned in December, the group used a computer to assist in the counterfeiting of signed checks made payable to themselves, using aliases, on the accounts of numerous businesses in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Metairie, Bossier City, Gretna, Mansfield and Kenner, as well as businesses from Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma.

They cashed the checks at banks in Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport, Bossier City, Gretna, New Orleans, Mansfield and Monroe between October 1998 and August 1999, the indictment says.

Most of the checks were for relatively small amounts, with most in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, Domingue said. Bank One sustained the biggest loss, more than $169,000, according to an earlier estimate filed with the guilty pleas.

Other banks included Hibernia, Regions, Whitney, Community National Bank, Citizens Bank, Community Bank, Iberia Savings Bank and Southtrust Bank, records show.