THE WASHINGTON POST – A Florida man was sentenced to seven years in federal prison recently after pretending to be associated with hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company.
Aaron Barnes-Burpo, 29, of Crestview, Florida, pleaded guilty to committing wire fraud, according to Acting United States (US) Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia David Estes.
Barnes-Burpo and co-conspirator Walker Washington, 52, who is awaiting sentencing, ran their scam for several weeks, Estes said.
The swindlers’ triumph came to a halt on November 21, 2019, when their deception seemed off to hotel staff at a Fairfield Inn and Suites in Augusta, Georgia.
Barnes-Burpo claimed to be with Roc Nation, an entertainment and management company founded by rapper and businessman Jay-Z, when he tried to book 10 rooms and have a USD2,500 credit applied to a king suite for an artiste and his entourage, according to the complaint. He would provide a credit card number for authorisation as long as the hotel did not charge it, he told staffers, because he was planning to pay with a certified cheque at the end of the stay.
[email protected] emailed the hotel with a credit authorisation form that showed the credit card was linked to a Kansas address and identified the guest as ‘Rocnation/WuTangClan’, according to court documents.
The hotel’s director of sales noticed that the same group had tried to book rooms weeks before. She called a legal representative at Roc Nation, who confirmed that the entertainment agency had received several calls about the scam from four or five hotels.
After verifying that the card was stolen, special agent Jonathan Escobar and other authorities travelled to the hotel to watch the scam in action.
When Barnes-Burpo tried to check in the next day under the Roc Nation reservation, he and others were detained. Barnes-Burpo said he was employed with Roc Nation and explained that he did not make the reservation. He simply used his cellphone to speak with representatives at Roc Nation who do the actual booking, he said, according to the federal complaint. He was arrested.
A search of Barnes-Burpo’s vehicle led authorities to discover keys from hotels across the country and paper that had credit card numbers written on it. Lists of record labels and their personnel were scribbled on papers, court records state. Authorities found online login credentials for the operation that had simple passwords such as rocnation123.
A search of Barnes-Burpo’s cellphone showed photographs and screenshots of information used to defraud businesses. Shortly after Barnes-Burpo’s arrest, a woman contacted federal agents about how she and her cousins had been recruited by Barnes-Burpo and Washington in Alabama for USD2,000 worth of services for which they were never compensated. She also sent a 2014 article detailing Washington’s arrest for pretending to be a rapper and defrauding hotels.
Barnes-Burpo has been ordered to pay nearly USD300,000 to 19 businesses he defrauded, and he is required to serve three years of supervised release after finishing his prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.