The theft of almost $3.6 million from Miami Beach’s public coffers began with a Craigslist ad for baseball tickets in Chicago.
David J. Miller never sold the tickets. But the FBI says he stole the buyer’s identity and embarked on a bizarre scheme to plunder millions from unwitting Beach bureaucrats to buy and sell expensive tickets at a horse racing venue and five NFL stadiums across the country.
According to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent in federal court this week, Miller, 44, used the Illinois man’s information to set up an account with a website where people can buy and transfer “personal seat licenses,” which entitle the holder to buy season tickets or individual game tickets for sporting events.
Then, after somehow obtaining the account and routing numbers for Miami Beach’s general depository account at SunTrust Bank, Miller set up bank transfers to buy personal seat licenses, reaching into the public till 57 times between July and October 2016.
Meanwhile, a struggling finance department at City Hall was so behind on reconciling its accounts that no one reported any problem until months later.
A resident of Syracuse, New York, Miller has been charged with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to Benjamin G. Greenberg, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Miller is currently in custody in New York.
The U.S. attorney’s office collaborated with the FBI and Miami Beach police to investigate the theft and pursue the recovery of the stolen money. So far, the Beach has recovered $1,982,314.12, a little more than half of the stolen $3.6 million.
“The city is continuing to work with law enforcement to recover every penny,” said Beach spokeswoman Tonya Daniels.
The ticket sales company noticed something suspicious in October and notified FBI agents in Houston. But it was several weeks before a city finance employee first noticed the fraudulent transfers on Dec. 8. Afterward, Beach officials quickly suspected fraud but were forced to confront a poorly performing finance department that could not reconcile its bank account on time.
The taxpayers were the victim of a crime, but City Hall would’ve noticed that it was getting ripped off much earlier with better oversight from its own bean-counters, according to a financial consultant’s review.
Miller has seen the inside of a jail cell before.
He was convicted of identity theft in 2013 in another New York county, according to court records. He has also previously served time for grand larceny and criminal possession of a forged instrument, according to records from the New York Department of Corrections.
In the early 2000s, Miller worked as a delivery truck driver for Nesci Produce, a food service distributor in Syracuse. Owner Patrick Nesci told the Miami Herald that Miller was an unreliable employee who had a gambling problem and often failed to show up for work.
When the U.S. attorney’s office announced the charges, Miller was already in custody in New York on unrelated identity theft charges, according to New York court records. Miller was arrested by Syracuse police around 2 a.m. May 31. He was accused of stealing a woman’s identity to buy a phone from AT&T, running up the victim’s phone bill to $9,690.
Miller pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail, according to court records. Reached by phone Friday, Miller’s attorney, Anthony Germano, declined to comment.
The announcement in the Beach fraud case comes after months of investigation following the revelation in December that $3.6 million had been stolen from the Beach’s bank account — a theft perpetrated between late July and November over the course of 57 bank transfers.
Miller is accused of plundering the Beach in small bites at first. The first transfer totaled about $7,500 in late July. Then the amounts ballooned quickly into transfers as large as $220,000, the sum taken from the account on one day in mid-October.
Authorities did not reveal how they believe Miller obtained the Beach’s bank information.
FRAUD FOR FOOTBALL
The federal case against Miller outlines his process for siphoning taxpayer dollars out of Miami Beach and using them to profit off high-priced personal seat licenses.
Federal agents say Miller stole the identity of an Illinois man who responded to a Craigslist ad Miller had posted for baseball tickets for games scheduled in Chicago in mid-July. The Illinois man, identified as “R.W.” in the FBI affidavit, later told FBI agents that he may have mistakenly sent Miller an image of his driver’s license in a text message as they communicated about the baseball tickets.
Miller then used R.W.’s information to set up an account with a website where people can buy and transfer personal seat licenses, the affidavit said. He registered the account with routing and account numbers for the Beach’s SunTrust account to pay.
That money bought about 157 personal seat licenses at five NFL stadiums and a horse racing venue between July and October 2016. On top of the sports tickets, Miller also took care of some personal expenses. In one instance, Miller even cut a counterfeit check to his daughter from the Beach account, the FBI said.
It didn’t take long for the scheme to unravel.
The ticket sales company, which is not named in the affidavit, grew suspicious of Miller’s fake account in October. After a background check that included calling the real R.W., it disabled Miller’s account and froze pending transactions. This allowed Miami Beach to quickly recover a half million dollars once the company learned the city was the victim of fraud.
But Miller wasn’t done. He used the Beach’s account to pay his utility bills in November and December, the affidavit said.
Even after the Beach closed the compromised account, Miller kept at it. In early May, he unsuccessfully tried to sell personal seat licenses on Craigslist. A potential customer walked away after doing a background check. The ticketing website said Miller was involved in fraud.
The bank fraud offense carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The aggravated identity theft offense carries a mandatory, consecutive two-year term of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.