WORCESTER – After a 17-day trial in federal court, the well-dressed defense team left the courtroom Tuesday the same way it entered.
After more than two days of deliberations, a federal jury Tuesday convicted two brothers, who represented themselves, on charges related to a complicated scheme in which they stole more than $2 million from banks nationwide by obtaining fraudulent airplane loans in the names of people whose identities they stole.
“All’s well that ends well,” one juror said as he left U.S. District Court Tuesday, noting he felt the worst not for parties like Commerce Bank, which lost nearly $400,000, but for the victims of identity theft whose credit was wrecked. Some of those victims were flown in to testify.
“This caused a lot of hurt to a lot of people,” said the juror, who declined to give his name, describing how an Arizona man lost the title to his airplane – twice – and how another man moved to Canada after his poor credit sunk his efforts to obtain employment.
Ryan and Dusten James Miller, Chicago brothers in their early 30s, face decades behind bars after Tuesday's convictions on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit identity theft.
Ryan Miller, a year older than Dusten, was additionally convicted of bank fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. The two men, who wore business attire to court each day before being handcuffed out of jurors' sight and taken back to jail, are scheduled to be sentenced May 9.
Commerce Bank was bilked out of $382,500 by the brothers, the jury found; the bank told the T&G after the charges were filed that it has re-evaluated its internal controls.
The brothers were able to get the huge loans without ever meeting the bankers. They used stolen identities and documents they doctored themselves, and they did everything via email or over the telephone.
The men faked documents ranging from tax returns to pilot licenses to get the loans, prosecutors said, and also faked papers to make it look as if they were the sellers of the airplanes. To conceal their involvement, the government said, they laundered the cash through shell corporations, but were discovered after the quality of their work declined and investigators homed in on internet protocol addresses and phones.
“They developed a high level of expertise at this,” lead prosecutor Karin M. Bell, an assistant U.S. attorney, told jurors in her closing argument last week. Over the course of 70 minutes, she meticulously laid out, often from memory, a long list of evidence against the brothers, including scribbled notes in which Ryan Miller recounted where the “loot” from the Commerce heist was headed.
In one chart, Ms. Bell showed dozens of phone numbers one of the brothers used by swapping SIM cards in his phone to try to evade detection. But they all linked back to the same Blackberry, she said.
The brothers, while trying to conceal their crimes, made no attempt to hide their wealth. Ryan Miller perpetrated much of the fraud from a Caribbean villa, Ms. Bell said, while Dusten helped from his residence at Trump Tower in Chicago, where he had, for a time, a chauffer he called "The Captain." The two bought or loaned numerous luxury cars, she said, including a Ferrari.
Not only were the banks fooled, Ms. Bell said, but real people whose information was used to obtain the loans were hurt. In addition to credit scores getting wrecked, a man from Arizona had to pay $40,000, she said, after losing the title to his airplane twice. He ultimately sold it.
After nearly 20 hours of waiting while the jury deliberated — punctuated by a question from the jury Monday about deadlocks — Ms. Bell and co-prosecutor Greg A. Friedholm breathed sighs of relief after the verdict.
The government put on 32 witnesses over two weeks at trial. It flew victims in from across the country, and had to compensate "standby" counsel to sit with the brothers as they tried their hands at being their own defense attorneys.
In his closing argument, Ryan Miller, who was arrested while living in a costly resort villa in the Dominican Republic, argued that there was some question of whether one of the banks was federally insured, which, by his logic, required the jury to acquit him.
Dusten Miller argued there was no “audio or video” evidence against him, leaving out that investigators, after catching on to the scheme, had obtained a picture of him retrieving a copy of documents related to one of his crimes.
“I give them credit for doing it pro se,” said Laura Zimmerman, the jury’s forewoman, as she was leaving the courthouse. “I don’t think any of us would have done that.”
Asked about the lengthy deliberations – one juror was holding back tears Monday afternoon - Ms. Zimmerman noted the pile of evidence in the case, which included more than 250 exhibits, and the abundance of testimony.
Ms. Zimmerman said it took a long time to go through the evidence, and that although jurors at one point were worried they might reach an impasse, in the end consensus was reached.
Ryan Miller asked Judge Timothy S. Hillman to bring the jury back out after the verdict, but the judge, noting he’d already excused them, refused.
It was inside Ryan Miller’s villa that authorities found many of the fraudulent documents used in the crimes. In addition, both of the brothers’ girlfriends pleaded guilty to helping the men move their money, and both testified at trial.
Both women reached plea deals with the government and are due to be sentenced in the spring.
Ryan Miller, in his closing, argued the evidence pointed to his then-girlfriend, and, with a hint of emotion absent during the rest of his argument, pushed back against allegations that he’d abused her.
He and his brother stared ahead Tuesday as the verdicts were read; they could not be asked for comment because they are prisoners. The four guards who watched them during the trial handcuffed them and led them out of the courtroom. There was no one but court staff and prosecutors watching in the gallery.
Neither man testified under oath in his defense.
“Abraham Lincoln had it right,” said the juror who declined to be named, referencing the famous quote by the 16th president: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”