Guilty plea expected in shipping fraud case

by Associated Press

Published: August 4,2013

Tags: court, crime, Dustin Lee Griswold, fraud, guilty, Harmoni Shipping, Jennifer Griswold, judicial, judiciary, justice, law, legal, plea, shipping

BILOXI — A man intends to plead guilty Wednesday as part of the fraud investigation of a shipping company in south Mississippi, federal court records say.

Married couple Dustin Lee Griswold and Jennifer Griswold were indicted May 14 on charges related to their business, Harmoni Shipping in Biloxi.

U.S. District Judge Walter Gex III in Gulfport scheduled the plea hearing for Dustin Griswold after an attorney filed a notice of intent to plead guilty on his behalf.

Griswold is charged with one count of conspiracy and 15 counts of fraud. The change of plea hearing is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.

Court records did not say to which charges he would plead guilty. His lawyer did not respond to a message.

Dustin Griswold has been held without bond. U.S. Magistrate John Roper wrote in a detention order in June that Dustin Griswold had been a fugitive from justice in 2006 and 2009 and had been convicted of assault and theft charges in the past.

Jennifer Griswold has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy. She’s scheduled for trial Thursday, but prosecutors asked for a 30-day delay. She has been free on $25,000 bond.

Her lawyer, Peter Barrett, had no comment.

The indictment says Harmoni solicited business by purporting to be an international shipping company and asking customers for payments up front. The Griswolds then would hire a third party, such as UPS, to ship the goods, but prosecutors said they never intended to pay the party that did the work.

Prosecutors said the alleged scheme operated from March to July 2009.

In a case described in the indictment, the Griswolds allegedly told a company called AWM Transportation that Harmoni Shipping owned multiple trucks and could move their goods across the country.

Around the same time, prosecutors said, they told UPS that Harmoni Shipping owned barges and moved ocean freight but needed someone to ship the goods on land.

AWM Transportation hired Harmoni Shipping, but the company used UPS to move the products, the indictment says.

When UPS tried to collect $29,000 in unpaid bills from Harmoni, Dustin Griswold told UPS that Harmoni Shipping was waiting for payment from AWM Transportation, which he knew was not true, the indictment said.

Later, Jennifer Griswold allegedly told UPS that the check was in the mail. When UPS didn’t receive the check, she told the company that “their house had been broken into, all their checks had been stolen, and their bank account had been frozen,” according to the indictment.

A few days later, Dustin Griswold told UPS that someone had erased the files on his computer and stolen his checkbook, the indictment said.

The Griswolds also are accused of trying to solicit money from AWM Transportation by saying that the company’s freight was “being held for ransom on the side of the road,” the indictment said.

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