Last week, federal prosecutors filed wire fraud charges against an alleged Internet scammer from Michigan named Rodney Stevenson II, who peddled masks he couldn’t actually provide.
According to a criminal complaint filed in California [where most of his victims live], PayPal records showed [his] company, EM General, LLC, generated $140,000 in sales, mostly between Feb. 5 and Feb. 26. “A substantial portion of the transactions involved the sale of N95 masks by EMG,” wrote federal authorities in the complaint.
This report says Stevenson sold for the masks for “exorbitant prices,” so it appears he was profiteering from a pandemic. Oy. But that’s not what he got slapped with. According to the criminal complaint, Stevenson didn’t have any inventory. People sent him their money and he would ship them nothing — or he’d belatedly send inferior masks that didn’t match the description.
“Defendant sought to obtain money and property by falsely marketing and selling N95 respirator masks and N99 filters that he did not possess and did not intend to provide to customers,” wrote investigators in the federal complaint.
Michigan business records show Rodney Stevenson II isn’t the only person connected to EM General, LLC. While the 24-year-old is listed as the company’s “manager,” his father, Rodney Stevenson, 54, is listed as a “member.”
And that’s where this gets extra interesting. The elder Stevenson is a pastor. He fumed to a reporter,
“He’s innocent. My son is the most honest person that you’ll probably meet. He’s an honor student and a devout believer.”
Ah, that settles it then. I can just picture the contrite prosecutor telling her team, “Alright gang, let’s pack it up, we got the wrong guy. This one’s devout!”
But wait. The federal charge against the younger Stevenson stems in part from the allegation that
“Defendant used fake identities, including a fake name and image for its Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, to fraudulently create the appearance that he was operating as a legitimate and reputable business and to distance himself from the scheme and from customer complaints.”
When customers called complaining about the missing merchandise, junior would allegedly tell a triple lie. He’d pretend to be company CEO “Mike T.” or someone by another fictitious name, insist that inventory had just caught up to demand, and that products were about to be shipped to waiting clients.
Then nothing would happen, except for a lot of people eventually getting steamed.
EM General has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan, which the watchdog agency said was “due in large part to the more than 180 complaints from across the country since March 9, 2020.”
“There’s a specific credit card company — I’m not going to name them — but they have been targeting companies and intentionally sabotaging them. They’re using their policies … to freeze funds up … locking the merchants out of the account so that they can’t service those customers. And so that is what caused this whole issue.”
It’s true that the economic uncertainty of the corona-crisis has caused certain credit card processors to behave in unexpected and concerning ways recently. Some are holding on to funds that should’ve been promptly released to the merchant. But if that was the case with the Stevensons’ company, why not level with the customers? Why use fake identities to fool them?
Stevenson senior didn’t address that part, but he wants to clear up something else.
The pastor said his son was actually selling “cycling masks” not “surgical masks.”
Biking, bilking — so close as to be indistinguishable!
[However, t]he criminal complaint alleges that EM General’s website clearly described the masks for sale as “N95 respirator masks.”
The incredulous father won’t hear of it.
“Who registers with the IRS, registers with Michigan, has a Michigan legal bank account, has a father that’s a pastor locally in Michigan… and would start a business and try to hide and deceive people?”
Seriously? Again with the appeal to religion? Again with the protestations about how his kind of people would never do such a thing and how we all owe him and his brood deference based on his unremarkable profession?
Look here, pastor-man. Some of the most disreputable and despicable people in the world happen to be members of the clergy (like these ones and these ones and these ones). This blog is filled to the brim with devout fraudsters, pious rapists, and god-loving murderers. I hope for your and your kid’s sake that he’s innocent, but it doesn’t look good, and I expect he’ll take his rightful place in our never-ending rogues’ gallery.
Until then, good luck with the praying.
(Screenshot via EM General)