Bay Area rapper Kafani accused of leading multimillion-dollar fraud ring across California

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OAKLAND — A popular Bay Area rapper known for his inspiring recovery after being shot and paralyzed has been named by federal prosecutors as the ringleader in a scheme that allegedly stole millions from unsuspecting identity theft victims across California.

Rapper Kafani, 39, whose aliases are listed as Mark Django Hicks Jr. and Amir Rashad, has been named as the lead defendant in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud case that prosecutors allege began in late 2018. Rashad is accused of conspiring with co-defendants Susan Arreola-Martin, Christopher Pool and Tyrone Jones in a wide-ranging scheme based around fraudulent loans.

“In each of the instances being investigated, an unknown subject or subjects stole personal identifying information from the victim, used that information to open a bank account in the victim’s name, and established an email account using the victim’s name,” FBI Special Agent Armando Delgado-Campos wrote in the complaint. “The subjects would then use the victim’s identity to obtain a refinance loan, using the victim’s property as collateral.”

One victim, who owns properties in Oakland, reported attempts to start bank accounts and fraudulent loans in her name for four months. Another two victims, in Orinda, said a $325,000 loan that they knew nothing about had been taken out in their names, authorities said.

In other cases, the defendants allegedly used the identifying information to buy gold bars — including one gold bar orders totaling nearly $1 million in gold from a victim in Beverly Hills. The FBI eventually caught onto this trend and duped the defendants by sending $300 in silver bars to a Vallejo location where $24,000 worth of gold had been ordered. The feds conducted a stake out at the location and saw Jones pick up the bars in a car registered to Rashad’s brother.

During the alleged offenses, Rashad was on supervised release after serving a 39-month sentence for a 2015 conviction of conspiring to commit wire fraud, court records show.

The investigation involved the Alameda County, Contra Costa, and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s offices, as well as the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI. Federal authorities served search warrants at homes in Oakley and Richmond, and searched a 2007 Cadillac Escalade and a 2015 Mercedes Benz S550 as part of the investigation, court records show.

Rashad, listed as a resident of Oakland and Antioch, had his first court appearance last week and has been released after posting $250,000 bail, court records show.

Some of the evidence came from wiretaps of Rashad’s phone. In one conversation, he and other person allegedly discussed how they were going to impersonate an elderly woman in order to make a loan in her name.

“We good, we just need a granny,” Rashad allegedly said. A month later, Arreola-Martin, 69, impersonated the woman to set up a fraudulent loan, prosecutors said.

Rashad’s rap career started in the mid-1990s, and he gained nationwide recognition during the mid-2000s, at the peak of the Hyphy Movement. One of his best-known songs, Fast (Like a Nascar), received widespread attention in 2007.

In November 2011, police said Rashad was at the scene of a West Oakland shooting in which eight people were shot, including 23-month-old Hiram Lawrence Jr., who later died. A van belonging to the rapper was riddled with gunshots, police said at the time.

In 2013, Rashad was filming a music video in East Oakland when he was shot several times and paralyzed. The following year, he recovered so well — in part with the help of one of the Bay Area’s first robotic exoskeletons — Rashad began training to run marathons.

“Just being able to take those first few steps was groundbreaking,” Rashad told an Oakland Tribune reporter in 2014. “It felt like I had my life back. I was able to stand; I could look people in the eye.”

Rashad also noted a life lesson he’d learned from the experience: that things can change drastically on a dime.

“I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me. I’m still making my music,” he said, smiling. “You have to be grateful for what you have. Any time, things can change.”

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