2 Fort Wayne residents plead guilty in $4.8 million wire fraud case

JACKSONVILLE, FL. (WANE)  Federal authorities say the third of three co-conspirators in a wire fraud investigation involving a Hicksville, Ohio consumer electronics business has been found guilty, bringing the case to a close.

Marcelene M. Keesbury and Charles “Mick” French, both of Fort Wayne,  pleaded  guilty back in November of 2016 in US District Court in Jacksonville, Florida, to being responsible for The Wholesale House losing approximately $4.8 million in revenue over the course of nearly four years. The mastermind of the sceme, Justin Pennington of Nocatee, Florida, was found guilty of conspiracy and nine counts of wire fraud by a federal jury Thursday.

Federal investigators determined all three were employed by The Wholesale House in an executive capacity. They secretly opened an internet business called 3 Kings in direct competition to The Wholesale House. Keesbury and French would make purchases from The Wholesale House at a significant discount and then sell them in direct competition on the 3 Kings website, with Pennington serving as the fraudulent company’s information technology director.

According to federal documents, due to the fact 3 Kings was able to purchase merchandise cheaper than their competitors, the long-time customer base for The Wholesale House began losing significant sales to 3 Kings. The company purchased nearly $40 million of products and Pennington built credit card balances up to $100,000 a month, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The scheme began to unravel in 2013 when one of the owners of The Wholesale House questioned French about 3 Kings and the company’s ability to pay its debt to The Wholesale House. During a meeting in Florida, French, Pennington and Keesbury made incriminating statements to the owners and an FBI special agent about their involvement, saying their motive was greed.

Keesbury and French have agreed to pay restitution and face up to five years in prison and a fine when sentenced. Pennington faces up to 20 years on each count.