A Tacoma woman who participated in a massive fraud that ensnared dozens of solders from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and victimized her own grandmother was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.
But Jannie Lee got a break when Superior Court Judge Thomas Larkin ruled she was eligible for a special sentencing alternative available to drug addicts. Under the alternative, she can qualify for release after serving five years. Authorities would use the remaining five years as leverage to ensure Lee remains drug and crime free.
“It certainly is disheartening to everyone that you victimized your own grandmother, who is a vulnerable person. That’s a terrible thing,” Larkin said. “I do know this: That people like you who have done terrible things can change their lives.”
Lee, 30, pleaded guilty in January to five felonies: criminal profiteering, first-degree identity theft, first-degree theft and two counts of second-degree identity theft.
Deputy prosecutor Lisa Wagner said Lee was one of several ringleaders who used a routing number illegally obtained from an Ohio bank account to pay off debts of nearly 2,000 people across the country, racking up more than $3 million in fraudulent charges. Lee accepted cash or electronic goods like iPads and digital cameras in exchange for her services, according to court records.
She used the account to pay off more than $75,000 in credit-card debt she accumulated on two credit cards she signed up for under her grandmother’s name. Her grandmother did not know her identity had been used to open the accounts, Wagner said.
Lee also recruited people into the scheme, including JBLM soldiers, using Facebook, Craigslist and at barbecues and other get-togethers, records show.
The Army eventually identified 78 soldiers who took part in one fashion or another. Some were prosecuted in military courts, some were discharged from the Army, and others faced internal discipline.
“There were extensive losses, multiple victims and a lot of heartache,” said Wagner, who argued for a 10-year sentence.
Defense attorney Ephraim Benjamin said his client was addicted to prescription painkillers at the time of the fraud and also embroiled in a culture of greed.
“She greatly regrets putting her grandmother through the troubles she’s had to deal with,” said Benjamin, who argued for the alternative sentence.
Lee then apologized for her actions and asked Larkin to give her a second chance.
“I’m not asking the court to overlook my charges, because I take full responsibility for these crimes,” she said. “What I’m asking for is a chance to better myself.”
Larkin decided to give her that chance.
“It’s not easy to do. It takes strength, it takes willpower, it takes a commitment,” the judge said. “If you don’t follow through, and we’ll know soon enough whether you’re dedicated to the process, you’ll just wind up spending more time in prison.”