A pregnant mother of six trembled throughout a court hearing Sunday as prosecutors accused her of stealing the identities of several people, including a star of the Fox television show “Empire,” and collecting thousands of dollars in merchandise mailed to dummy addresses.
Alicia Newby quietly sobbed next to her court-appointed attorney at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, charged with a single felony count of continuing a financial crime enterprise. Newby, 29, was ordered released on a $10,000 signature bail and electronic monitoring, but was forbidden from contacting victims or witnesses.
During the hearing before Judge Charles S. Beach II, prosecutors didn’t name either of Newby’s alleged victims, but police and court records list actress Taraji P. Henson, 48, as one of them. A representative for the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actress who stars in the hip-hop drama that films in Chicago couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday afternoon.
An investigation by police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s financial crime unit found “multiple other victims” but only mentioned two during Sunday’s hearing. Prosecutors calculated that Newby’s scheme totaled more than $12,000 in fraudulent transactions, though more than $4,000 was canceled after Henson’s manager discovered the fraud last August.
Authorities did not say how Newby and Henson knew one another, but a police source said investigators were also looking into whether any other cast members of “Empire” may have been victims.
A key to Newby’s success was compromising Henson’s email, prosecutors said.
“Once this was done, the defendant then raided the account for a variety of information," including phone numbers, addresses, financial accounts and telephone numbers that she could then use to purchase items online, Assistant State’s Attorney James Costello told the court.
In addition to defrauding Henson, Newby also defrauded JP Morgan Chase, American Express and PayPal and multiple other merchants in her scheme, according to charging documents.
Newby was arrested early Saturday as police served a search warrant at her Galewood neighborhood apartment in the 6200 block of West Wabansia Avenue following a nearly yearlong investigation. During the search, authorities recovered items they believe were purchased in the scheme and were awaiting the results of a forensic analysis of several electronic devices that were seized.
In court, prosecutors told the judge how Henson’s team contacted Chicago police after the actress’ manager noticed fraudulent charges appearing on several of her accounts. The manager also noticed the items were being shipped to two South Side addresses under names they didn’t recognize, prosecutors said.
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Investigators learned that Newby had utilities in her name mailed to both addresses and that she obtained a lease at one of the addresses allegedly using a second victim’s identity, Costello said.
Last September, a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier refused to deliver packages to one of the addresses, believing it was being used in an ID theft scam, but was allegedly “assaulted” by Newby, demanding that she deliver the packages, prosecutors said. Police officers called to the scene captured the woman’s demands on body-worn camera. But Newby later received the packages after she caused a scene at the local post office, Costello said.
Authorities lost track of Newby in December after she cleared out of an apartment, leaving behind thousands of dollars in damages and about $4,000 in unpaid rent. She resurfaced earlier this year when she pawned a designer purse using her real state identification card, Costello said. The pawnbroker and three postal employees identified Newby by photo.
Prior to Newby’s arrest, authorities obtained records from social media and email accounts, phone companies and financial institutions that allegedly point to Newby as the person behind the fraudulent purchases.
Newby’s attorney asked for a reasonable bond, noting that the crime didn’t involve violence, she is the mother of six children and is two months pregnant and has bipolar disorder.
Two young men who attended the hearing on Newby’s behalf declined to speak after the hearing.
The judge approved a prosecution request to bar Newby from using the internet while the case is pending.
She is expected to return to court next week.
This is the second criminal story this year involving a star of the hit Fox show. In January, actor Jussie Smollett, who plays Henson’s son Jamal, stepped into the international spotlight after claiming he was the victim of a hate crime outside his Streeterville condo on the coldest night of the year. He was later charged with filing a false report, but the case was dropped. Another judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate why State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office suddenly dropped all charges alleging Smollett made up the attack to promote his career.