Jeweler pleads guilty to $5M scheme using fake invoices

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Connecticut man pleaded guilty Wednesday to what federal authorities described as a long-running $5 million fraud scheme using his Rhode Island jewelry store.

The U.S. attorney's office in Rhode Island said 52-year-old Gerald Kent, of Groton, Connecticut, made a plea deal with prosecutors. Kent owned Kent Jewelry — formerly located in Johnston, Rhode Island — which sold jewelry online primarily to Groupon and Zulily.

He pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The identity theft charge will be served consecutive to his sentence for wire fraud.

Prosecutors said the scheme focused on a deal Kent made with a so-called "factoring" firm in Chicago.

Factoring firms buy invoices from companies at a discount to help those businesses get the capital they need to grow without having to wait for outstanding invoices to be paid.

As part of the plea, Kent said in court that he had submitted fraudulent invoices to the Chicago firm which resulted in payments to him of nearly $5 million.

Kent said he created hundreds of the fraudulent invoices; created and used a fraudulent clone of Chicago-based Groupon, Inc.'s website; enlisted co-conspirators to pose as Groupon employees; and opened bank accounts in the names of Groupon and Seattle-based Zulily, Inc., in order to deceive the Chicago company into believing it was receiving payments from the firms.

Kent was first charged on July 17 and later released on a $50,000 bond.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9.

Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by up to 2 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.

The matter was investigated by the Secret Service and the FBI.

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