Tennessee Woman Pleads Guilty to Filing False Claims for Unclaimed Property

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SACRAMENTO : Marilyn Cook (aka Marilyn Powell and Marilyn Sunset), 58, of Alcoa, Tennessee, pleaded guilty today to one count of mail fraud in relation to a scheme to obtain unclaimed property held by the California State Controller’s Office Unclaimed Property Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, in August and September 2014, Cook, using the name Marilyn Sunset, committed a scheme to defraud by filing false claims with the Division of Unclaimed Property for properties belonging to the U.S. Marshal Service and others. These properties were being held pursuant to a California law that requires financial institutions, businesses, and other entities, to turnover financial assets to the State Controller’s Office when an account has been inactive or there has been no contact with the property owner for a specified period of time. The properties are then safeguarded until they are returned to their rightful owner. The Unclaimed Property Division maintains a list of properties in their possession on a publicly available website and provides instructions on how to claim such properties.

In furtherance of the scheme, Cook identified properties belonging to others, including the U.S. Marshal Service, and falsely certified under penalty of perjury that she was entitled to claim the identified properties. Cook also used a Tennessee ID card that she obtained in the name Marilyn Sunset to have certain claim forms notarized, as was required by the Unclaimed Property Division for claims over a certain dollar amount. Finally, Cook submitted fictitious documents in support of her claims to show that she was authorized to claim the properties. These documents included a letter on Department of Justice letterhead that falsely purported to have been signed by a former Assistant Attorney General, authorizing Sunset to collect properties on behalf of the U.S. Marshal Service. In all, Cook falsely claimed 128 properties totaling $398,537. The Unclaimed Property Division identified the claims as fraudulent and did not disperse any property to Cook.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shelley D. Weger is prosecuting the case.

Cook is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley on July 15. Cook faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The actual sentence will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

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