A Duluth man admitted Wednesday to perpetrating a wide-ranging identity theft scheme that victimized about two dozen people and swindled unemployment and COVID-19 relief funds from the state and federal governments.
Jared John Fiege, 34, pleaded guilty to felony counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft at a hearing in U.S. District Court, with a prosecutor asserting that his crimes had caused the loss of more than $550,000.
Under questioning, Fiege admitted to using names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of more than 20 people and creating fake passports, email addresses and phone numbers to fraudulently apply for unemployment insurance and federal COVID-19 relief funds.
Authorities said the case first came to the attention of Duluth police in August, when an "unusually large amount of cash" was being withdrawn nightly from Share Advantage Credit Union. Investigator Ryan Temple learned a man was using accounts funded by loans from the Small Business Administration under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
The accounts allegedly had been set up in others' names, with debit cards sent to an address in the Saginaw area. Fiege was identified as a suspect and police obtained a warrant to place a tracking device on his car.
According to court documents, it was discovered that Fiege "would travel each day in a circuit around the town of Saginaw" to intercept mail from various addresses where he had arranged for the fraudulent credit cards to be sent.
When Fiege was arrested Aug. 31, police said they found approximately $170,000 in cash at his residence, along with two firearms that had been stolen from vehicle prowls, and several passports and credit cards. In his truck, investigators said they located another $19,000 in cash and 14 cellphones, each with a different victim's name taped to the back.
Fiege already was facing a number of charges related to identity theft and the stalking of two ex-girlfriends in state court when the 16-count federal indictment was returned by a grand jury in March.
Appearing Wednesday by video from the Douglas County Jail, Fiege answered a series of questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Middlecamp confirming the basics of how he operated the scheme.
Fiege admitted that he managed to steal the victims' identities by accessing records that were in the possession of a relative who has provided tax preparation services.
One of the charges that was the basis for Fiege's plea involved a Duluth firefighter. The defendant admitted that, after obtaining the victim's identity, he filed for unemployment insurance, claiming the firefighter was laid off due to COVID-19. When the claim was denied, he forged a letter from the city of Duluth's human resources department asserting otherwise.
Fiege also admitted to creating a fake passport, getting a "burner phone" and setting up a false email address for the firefighter. At one point, he opened a bank account and had a transaction card mailed to a different address, where he was able to intercept it.
He even contacted the Duluth Fire Department and attempted to have the employee's paycheck redirected, Fiege acknowledged Wednesday.
Authorities said Fiege also established several fake business entities to receive funds from the Small Business Administration under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.
Middlecamp indicated Fiege is expected to face a guideline sentence range of approximately 65-88 months in federal prison, though the plea agreement gives both sides discretion to argue for a departure.
Fiege stipulated that the total financial loss from his crimes exceeds $250,000, and he agreed to forfeit the nearly $190,000 in cash that was previously seized, along with a pickup truck and the two guns. A final restitution amount is expected to be determined at sentencing.
Senior Judge Michael Davis ordered Fiege to cooperate with a presentence investigation. A sentencing date was not immediately set.
While resolving the federal crimes, Fiege still faces numerous pending felony cases in state courts in St. Louis and Washington counties. He is accused of "terrorizing" two ex-girlfriends, causing well over $30,000 in damage to their vehicles, sending threatening messages and attempting to frame one for a harassment restraining order violation, among many other allegations.
He is scheduled to make appearances in both counties in the coming weeks.