Former Princeton resident charged with fraud, aggravated identity theft, makes first N.J. court appearance, is out on bail

Ford Graham

Ford Graham, the former Princeton resident who has been charged by the federal government with fraud, identity theft, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, engaging in unlawful monetary transactions, and aggravated identity theft for allegedly engaging in multiple schemes to steal millions of dollars from individuals and institutions, is out on bail after his first federal court appearance in New Jersey.

Graham, who now has a thick mustache, made his first appearance before Judge Douglas Arpert of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Trenton via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon from what appeared to be a home office. He is being represented by criminal defense attorney Christopher Olsen of Schwartz, Hanna and Olsen, which has offices in Hamilton and Somerville.

While lawyers for the federal government expressed concerns that allowing Graham to be released would pose a flight risk, they agreed to his continued release. A bail bond for $300,000 was secured with property owned by Graham’s father, John Graham, in Covington, Louisiana. Graham also had to turn over his passport. The judge said the conditions of Graham’s release were mandatory and were not alterable.

The judge said Graham is only allowed to travel to visit New Jersey for court appearances, and must not have contact of any kind with any victims or witnesses in the case. His movements will be monitored with a GPS tracker ankle bracelet, and his electronic devices will be monitored with computer monitoring software. He is no allowed to enter any bank or financial institution without prior approval by the judge, and he must immediately inform the court of any address change. He is not allowed to apply for a new passport or travel documents.

Graham and his family are living in Nellysford, Virginia with his wife’s mother. He told the judge they have lived there since 2018. Graham’s 24-year-old son, James, will be his legal third-party custodian. Graham told the judge his son moved back to Nellysford for the sake of the agreement that was worked out with the federal government for his release. The son will be responsible for Graham and for making sure he complies with the terms of the agreement.

Brendan Day, the attorney in charge for the Trenton Branch Office at United States Attorneys’ office, briefly reviewed the charges and potential penalties in the eight-count criminal complaint at the start of the hearing.

Graham’s wife, Katherine Graham, is listed a a co-conspirator in the case, along with a second associate who lives in Mobile, Alabama.

According to the court filing, three of the victims of Graham’s alleged Ponzi schemes were Princeton area residents and two of them invested a “substantial amount” of money with him. Other victims included a former chief financial officer for his company, a resident of Tempe, Arizona, a resident of Encinitas, California, an electronic payments processing company based in San Francisco, a municipal public works agency in the Des Moines, Iowa area, and a law firm located on Nantucket in Massachusetts.

According to documents filed in the case, Graham allegedly represented himself as the owner, chief executive, chairman, manager, and principal member of dozens of corporate entities purporting to do business under an umbrella organization, Vulcan Capital Corp. Graham, a 1986 Princeton University alumnus who lived on Prospect Avenue, portrayed himself as a highly successful financier who had vast experience sponsoring complex energy and natural resource projects and other investment deals. In connection with one such investment that Graham and a Vulcan entity sponsored, one Princeton victim invested more than $2 million with Graham, relying on Graham’s misrepresentations and omissions regarding the investment. According to court documents, the investigation revealed that Graham misappropriated substantial amounts of the victim’s investment money and used it for his own personal benefit and enrichment – including international vacations, private school tuition for his children, and other personal amenities – instead of the investment purpose. Graham allegedly caused multiple victims to lose more than $2.6 million in the Ponzi scheme.

Graham also allegedly participated in a scheme to defraud merchant processing institutions through fraudulent credit card transactions. He allegedly used at least one payment processing platform to process fraudulent charges on stolen credit card numbers that he obtained. After the payment processing platform credited Graham’s account with the payments requested, Graham allegedly quickly transferred or caused to be transferred the fraudulently obtained money to other accounts before the victim institutions could act. When requested by the victim payment processing company to provide supporting documentation, he allegedly submitted false documentation, including fabricated invoices and credit card authorization forms, fabricated e-mails, forged signatures, altered bank statements, and other false and fraudulent information. This scheme resulted in tens of thousands of dollars of losses and the misappropriation of multiple victims’ personal identification information, according to court documents.

According to court documents, Graham also allegedly conspired with others to defraud victim institutions and individuals of millions of dollars through a business email compromise scheme. Members of the conspiracy scheme allegedly sent fraudulent e-mail communications to victims who were scheduled to make substantial outgoing wire transfers to third parties. These fraudulent e-mails created the appearance that they had been sent by the intended third-party recipients of the scheduled payments when, in fact, they were sent by members of the conspiracy. The fraudulent emails requested the victims to reroute the scheduled payments to different bank accounts Graham and his conspirators controlled. In one instance, a fraudulent email successfully induced one victim unknowingly to reroute a payment of more than $650,000 to a bank account Graham controlled. Upon receiving the funds, Graham allegedly transferred or caused to be transferred substantial portions of those funds to other accounts that he controlled, and which he used and intended to use for his own personal benefit. Graham and his conspirators attempted to defraud multiple victims of at least $6 million.

The wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy counts each carry a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross amount of gain or loss from the offense, whichever is greater. The securities fraud count is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine. Each count of aggravated identity theft is punishable by a statutory mandatory consecutive sentence of two years, which must run consecutive to any other sentence. The charge of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense or not more than twice the amount of the criminally derived property involved in the transactions.

Day said the government has significant concerns that Graham’s release poses a risk of flight for a number of reasons. He said the complaint details allegations of fraudulent conduct that took place for a number of years, and that the investigations identified international travel by Graham and various foreign connections. “We do believe the serious offenses in the complaint and the quantity of evidence to date, as well as the foreign connections and travel, speak to a significant risk of flight,” Day said. He added that from late 2019 into early 2020, Graham was incarcerated in the Southern District of New York after a judge found him in contempt of court for repeated violations of the judge’s orders. He said the government is concerned about the flight risk and Graham’s general compliance with court orders. He then said the government feels the requirements of Graham’s release are sufficiently restrictive to assure his appearance in court, but added that he will seek redress from the court if Graham does not comply with requirements.

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