CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Perran Davis flipped open a blue folder, digging through dozens of pages of records he’s collected in the three months since someone drained his father’s estate account of more than $133,000.
Davis is listed as the executor on the account and is responsible for the spending. Davis has to report expenditures to the probate court and could be held responsible for mishandling his father’s estate. “It’s not my money. It’s the money of my deceased father’s estate account. I’m responsible for that, I have to report to the probate court about that, so what am I supposed to do?” Davis asked rhetorically standing over the folder containing documents of his communications with SunTrust bank.
Davis opened the account with SunTrust. In 2019, SunTrust was merged with BB&T to create Truist bank. Truist is headquartered in Charlotte.
The merger was finalized in early 2022.
“This is an hour and 21 minutes and 51 seconds,” Davis said as he pulled up a call to Truist from March. Davis’ call log shows dozens of successful calls he’s made to his bank since February – the month he wrote a check to his attorney from the estate account.
A check that bounced.
“Red alert. It should have been impossible, there was over $130,000 in that account,” Davis told Queen City News Chief Investigator Jody Barr. “It’s impossible to wrap your mind around how can this happen? I thought that I was dealing with a reputable bank that had safeguards in place, and they obviously failed.”
Davis went back to his November and December bank statements and started to piece together what happened. In November, Davis paid Imperial Freight Lines, LLC to handle moving his father’s belongings from a storage facility in Tennessee to Georgia. The bank statement shows two payments to Imperial Freight Lines on Nov. 12 and again on Nov. 22.
Those payments totaled $3,507 – payments Davis said were legitimate.
On Nov. 23, the very next day, the bank statement shows a $1 debit from the account under the payee name “Imperial Freight.” The November statement shows a beginning balance of $139,501 in the account. The account was down to $113,677 by the end of November.
By the end of December, the account was drained to $65,952. At the end of January, the account was down to $45,353, and at the end of February, the account was $2,088 overdrawn.
WHO DID IT?
Because of the $1 withdrawal the day after his final payment, Davis suspected his moving company of stealing the money. The November statement shows several different debits to other vendors: two different banks, American Express, two insurance companies, among others. The last debit in the month happened on Nov. 30 with a $3,641 debit to Imperial Freight.
Davis believes the transactions show whoever stole the money was paying personal bills using his father’s estate account.
The December bank statement shows another $5,736 withdrawn from the account by Imperial Freight Lines. The final debit attributed to Imperial Freight Lines happened Dec. 7, but the statement shows 49 total debits from the account including payments to an auto financing company, the Broward County tax office, credit card companies, a cell phone company, and others.
Davis said the last check he wrote from the account was for check #1123, a check for $79.50 to pay his father’s storage bill, which cleared the account on Dec. 30. The rest of the debits were fraud, according to Davis.
Davis provided copies of returned checks from his bank statements. The check Davis said he wrote has his father’s estate account information at the top left, including Davis’s name as executor. The other checks and electronic cash withdrawals show checks that look nothing like the checks the bank issued to Davis.
However, each fraudulent check had Davis’ banking account and routing number printed on the bottom.
“Here’s another check for $8,286 to Imperial Freight Lines from a Brad Hughes at another Gmail address using our account information in the bank cashed all these checks,” Davis said as he pointed out the fraudulent checks his bank cashed. Some of the checks didn’t list a physical address at the top left corner and none of the fraudulent checks contained check numbers anywhere near the check numbers on the checks Davis purchased from the bank.
Davis said he knew something was wrong about a week before his attorney called him about the bounced check. On. Feb. 2, Davis said he got a call from his bank’s fraud department asking about a single check containing “misidentifying information.”
“She asked me about the check. I told her I didn’t know anything about it. And she said the reason her system flagged it was because it had inappropriate contact information on there, wrong person’s name, wrong address and so on,” Davis said. “So, I went through the account with her at that time.”
Davis said he’d tried to contact his bank since January to check the status of the account. He had no idea at the time that a fraudster had nearly drained the $133,000 from it by then.
“When I opened up the estate account, they (the bank) wouldn’t allow me online access for it. SunTrust would never allow, and I tried time and time and time again. I live in Pennsylvania. The estate’s managed down in Tennessee and Georgia, I need to be able to keep an eye on the account,” Davis told Queen City News.
When the bank contacted Davis on Feb. 2, his bank statement showed the account was overdrawn by $342.50. The bank’s call came too late to stop the transactions or to keep any of the money out of the hands of the criminal(s) who took it.
Davis didn’t file a fraud complaint until Feb. 11 – when he learned his father’s estate account was empty.
“I found out nine days later; I think, that over $130,000 had been wiped out. And at no time, did the bank ever contact me, not by phone, not by snail mail, not by email, nothing,” Davis said. The bank credited him “a few hundred dollars,” he said but notified him the bank would not be paying the remaining balance.
“This email is to notify you that we’ve noticed a higher-than-normal volume of electronic payments in your account ending in this number,” Davis said as he read from a fraud alert. Truist sent him fraud alerts three days later – weeks after his bank account was drained.
“So they didn’t bother to do this while the fraud was happening, this is after all the money was gone and then they’re telling me to log in and check my account when they wouldn’t allow the estate account to have online access. After all the money’s gone, then they start blowing my email up saying there’s fraud, we’re seeing a higher level of activity—why didn’t they do it when the fraud was happening,” Davis asked.
Davis believes the bank not only failed to protect his account, but his case is an indication of a loophole within the bank’s fraud prevention systems, “Instead of having the appropriate, you know, name of the person and the address and everything, it had random people’s names and addresses and I asked her (the fraud department staffer) why their fraud system didn’t catch it and she said their computer only looks at the numbers at the bottom of the checks, not the name and that the algorithm cashes checks if those numbers are right.”
“Which basically tells me there’s really no protection whatsoever. I can take and print a check on the appropriate paper and put some random person’s name and address in the upper left-hand corner and put somebody’s routing information and send it through Truist and according to this lady they’d cash it,” Davis said.
When Davis contacted us on March 29, Davis said Truist had only credited the account around $80,000. Davis asked for our help to find out why the bank had not credited his account the remaining $50,000. Davis’ account showed $112,416.40 credited as of the end of last week, according to Davis.
The bank still owes Davis $21,438, according to Davis’ accounting at the time of this report.
CONVICTED FRAUDSTER IDENTIFIED
The day Perran Davis filed his fraud complaint with Truist, he called the Lauderhill Police Department to ask for a criminal investigation into Imperial Freight Lines, LLC. Davis was eventually paired with Detective Richard Clarke, a veteran fraud investigator with the police department located a few minutes outside Fort Lauderdale.
Imperial Freight Lines has an office just 3,000 feet from the police department.
“He did his own research, identified the company, Imperial Freight Lines, LLC, which he believed at the time was responsible for the loss of his money,” Clarke told Queen City News during an interview at headquarters last month. Clarke initially also suspected the company of being the perpetrator.
That changed when the department received a complaint on March 24th from a man named Christopher Hoffman; a man Clarke identified as the owner of Imperial Freight Lines, LLC. Clarke had not contacted Imperial Freight Lines at the time and the company did not know it was the target of the criminal investigation at the time, according to Clarke.
Hoffman told investigators he had an employee who committed fraud against the moving company. The worker’s job was to broker moves and create moving contracts between Imperial Freight Lines and customers and the worker would earn commission on each contract.
The larger the contract amount, the higher commission the worker would make.
Hoffman identified the worker as Bruce Horner, a man state and federal law enforcement knew well, “Bruce Horner would create contracts using accounts of genuine customers who he dealt with previously, but the contracts that he would create would be for fictitious names using the real accounts. So, he’d be paid commission on these contracts,” Clarke said.
Clarke said the company identified 14 contracts Horner faked where he earned around $12,000 between November and March of 2022. Hoffman provided investigators copies of the contracts and supporting records that Clarke said gave him the probable cause needed to name Horner the lone suspect.
“I then realized that he (Hoffman) wasn’t to be a suspect, he was himself a victim. So, we had two victims: we had Mr. Davis and Mr. Hoffman, Imperial Freight Lines.”
Clarke devised a plan to arrest Horner. The detective asked Hoffman to delay paying Horner by one day and to tell Horner to come to Imperial Freight Lines’ main office on State Route 7 in Lauderhill to pick up his check on March 25.
That Imperial Freight Lines office is located on the second floor of the Truist bank building.
When Horner arrived, Clarke arrested him. The detective said Horner declined to be interviewed and “said nothing” following the arrest and the ride to the Broward County jail. Investigators charged Horner with six felonies – each related to Florida’s fraud and theft statutes.
Clarke seized Horner’s car and got search warrants to dig through it and Horner’s home to look for evidence. The detective said Horner’s car contained more than enough evidence to prove Lauderhill police had the right man, “Inside his vehicle were about 11 notebooks. And inside those notebooks are records of routing and account numbers for different account holders, numbering 55.”
The notebooks contained names of people who’d entered into contracts with Imperial Freight Lines and who’d also given Imperial Freight Lines their banking information. When we interviewed Clarke in April, he was still working to identify victims.
“I had to go through the notebooks, write down the account numbers, the routing numbers, some of them have phone numbers and names associated with them, so what I’m going to have to do now is call these persons to say, hey, you know, has your account been compromised?” Clarke told Barr.
Clarke believes there could be at least 54 additional victims, not including Perran Davis.
“What I also think is apparent now is that Mr. Horner has not only used Mr. Davis’s money towards the contract, I think he’s used it for his personal gain…I think he’s used some of that money to do other things that we haven’t discovered yet, which I will eventually,” Clarke said.
Horner entered a “not guilty” plea and was released the day of his arrest on bond. Broward County court records do not show an attorney listed for Horner or a court date.
Clarke also confirmed that Horner is the same Bruce Horner convicted in a large-scale federal financial fraud case from July 2008. The U.S. Secret Service opened an investigation in Broward County into Horner and co-defendant Arthur Bitterman located in Virginia.
A federal criminal complaint shows federal prosecutors charged the men with seven-count information accusing the men of conspiracy, wire fraud, and attempted bank fraud. Horner owned a restaurant and used the credit card machine to steal account information from customers.
The men then created fake business names “that never operated” to move the money into a personal bank account that belonged to Horner, according to the charging documents. Horner wrote 59 checks totaling $4,631,334 from “closed or insufficiently funded” bank accounts involved in what federal prosecutors described as a “scheme and artifice to defraud.”
Horner used the money “to pay for personal expenses” and “to write large checks to various family members, employees, collection agencies, and others,” according to court records.
Just 10 days after the charges and arrests, Bitterman pleaded guilty to one count of attempted bank fraud. Prosecutors dismissed all other charges against Bitterman. A judge sentenced him to three months probation, seven months home detention, and ordered him to pay $91,004.80 in restitution.
Horner pleaded guilty the week following his arrest to conspiracy, attempted bank fraud, and wire fraud. Federal Judge Kenneth A. Marra sentenced Horner to 90 months in prison and five years supervised release. The judge also ordered Horner to undergo gambling treatment and an alcohol/drug program and ordered him to pay $992,753.97 in restitution.
“Could they have prevented the situation that you were in, potentially 55 other people are in?” Barr asked Davis, “Absolutely. It took us three minutes on Google to find him. How hard is that?”
“Do you think Imperial set themselves up for what’s happened now?” Barr asked. “Absolutely. A simple background check would have done it. A phone call, you know if you don’t want to go through a federal background check, if you don’t want to spend a ton of money to check all that, call the county that you’re in. Do you have a record on this? It’s easy, or like you and I did; get on the website and type the guy’s name in and you’ll find it. They set themselves up not only for me and the other 50 people, but they brought this on themselves. You don’t put a wolf in the henhouse and expect things to be okay.”
Horner was released from federal custody on March 31, 2017, according to the Bureau of Prisons inmate records.
We made multiple attempts to contact Imperial Freight Lines’ owner Christopher Hoffman over the past month. Calls and emails were never returned. We visited the moving company’s Lauderhill office on April 11 and left another message with workers there.
Hoffman never returned that message.
A final call to Imperial Freight Lines’ office on April 27 resulted in a return call from Hoffman. “I can’t get into any details because it’s ongoing,” Hoffman told Queen City News Chief Investigator Jody Barr. “We caught it and brought it to their attention,” Hoffman said of his report to police concerning Horner.
Hoffman would not answer whether his company performed a background check on Horner before hiring him.
“I don’t feel comfortable answering questions about it,” Hoffman said during the April 27 call with Barr.
Bruce Horner also did not return calls asking for an interview. Phone numbers connected to Horner were disconnected and messages left with two family members were unanswered.
Perran Davis scoured the internet trying to determine whether he was alone in his attempts to get Truist bank to resolve his fraud investigation. Lauderhill police investigators notified the bank of its fraud investigation last month, but Detective Clarke told Davis the bank had not yet assigned a bank investigator to Davis’ case.
That was within the past two weeks.
Davis quickly found he wasn’t alone. A Facebook group titled ‘SunTrust/BB&T now Truist bank complaint group’ has grown to more than 1,300 with complaints from multiple customers sharing stories of their troubles with Truist.
“On the phone closing all my accounts at Truist. Took me 3 months to change all my direct deposits/bill pays, etc. Happy to be done with it,” one member wrote in an April 28 post.
The Better Business Bureau shows an A+ rating for Truist, but customers who left reviews on the BBB site earned the bank 1.09 stars out of 5, according to the Truist page. The BBB shows 2,795 customer complaints filed and closed against Trusit in the past three years with 1,539 complaints closed in the last year.
“I’ve tried to call them I’ve tried to email them. I’ve emailed branches, I’ve called branches, I’ve called every phone number imaginable. And it’s like, I’m not getting anywhere. It’s the most. It’s the most intensive emotional thing I’ve ever endured in my life,” Davis said.
“It took two months for the check department to get in touch with me and they didn’t do it because I was trying to find them, she told me the reason she called me is because I was on the list, and she was just now getting to me,” Davis told Queen City News during an interview in April at his home in Philadelphia.
Davis’ notes show his last contact with Truist bank concerning the electronic withdrawals happened Feb. 16.
“What are you supposed to do,” Barr asked, “I don’t know. That’s why I called you guys. I was just beating my head against the wall,” Davis responded.
We contacted Trusit bank’s corporate communications office on April 25, asking for the status of Davis’ fraud case and the reason why the $133,000 was still not credited to his account. “As you may know, to protect the privacy of our clients, we don’t discuss client matters,” a woman who identified herself in email as Shelley Miller with the title, ‘Corporate Communications,’ wrote.
Davis agreed to waive his privacy protections so the bank could discuss his account with Queen City News. Miller never responded when asked if the bank would entertain that offer.
Miller would also not arrange an interview with anyone at Truist to explain the bank’s handling of Davis’ case or to answer broad questions concerning what Davis believes is a loophole in the bank’s fraud prevention system.
Thanks again for bringing this to our attention. We’re not experiencing any broad-based issues related to fraud as a result of our conversion efforts. A small subset of our clients did experience individual challenges related to the President’s Day weekend conversion, including a delay in activating and using their new Truist debit card, which our teams have since addressed. This resulted in longer than normal wait times as we worked diligently to provide every client the care and attention they deserved. Over the past weeks, our wait times have steadily improved.
Protecting our clients and their accounts continues to be a top priority for us. Truist takes instances of fraud very seriously and we go to great lengths to detect and prevent fraud, including providing prompts within the user experience to help clients identify red flags that may indicate scams.Shelley Miller, Truist Corporate Communications
The President’s Day holiday was Feb. 21, but Davis’ call logs show attempts to reach Truist bank as late as April 1 were unsuccessful and hold times of more than an hour in a few cases.
After weeks of no response from the bank, a worker in Truist’s Wealth Division contacted Davis last Friday to tell him a “manager in Tennessee” confirmed “that the fraud unit is actively working this case,” Dana Williams wrote in an April 29 email to Davis.
As of this report, the bank still had not contacted Davis or provided him any timeline on when – or if – the bank plans to credit the remaining $21,000 to his father’s estate account.
“If you get this sorted out and you get the cash back that’s owed to this account, do you continue baking with Truist,” Barr asked. “No, I will never trust them again,” Davis said.
“Everything that could have failed did fail. And I don’t know at this point that there’s anything that they can do to reestablish their trust. Fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me,” Davis told Queen City News.