SALISBURY — A Salisbury man was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week after leading an identity theft scheme targeting at least 100 mental health patients and employees of a program that treated them.

U. S. District Judge Catherine Blake last week sentenced Christopher Andre Devine, 34, to 10 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release for conspiring to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to use the personal information of dozens of individuals in a mental health program to open bank accounts and fraudulently obtain cash, merchandise and services.

According to his plea agreement, from December 2008 to December 2011, Devine and his co-defendants, Quanisha Williamson-Ross, Lenee Williamson and Quashona Williamson, opened or recruited others to open checking accounts at banks and obtain check cards. The conspirators then deposited fraudulent checks into the accounts and used the associated check cards at ATM machines to make cash withdrawals.

According to evidence presented to the court, the co-conspirators gave all of the proceeds from the scheme to Devine, who provided them with little more than food and shelter. The three co-conspirators were completely financially dependent on Devine. According to testimony, Devine led the conspiracy with violence and intimidation, at one point punching and throwing a co-conspirator across a room.

Devine obtained the personal information of at least 40 individuals who were patients of a mental health program, along with 60 more individuals who were current or former employees. Devine also participated in a scheme to defraud the IRS by preparing and filing false tax returns in the names of the victims whose identities he and his co-conspirators had stolen. For example, in 2010 alone, at least 34 false tax returns were filed claiming refunds totaling over $123,000, which were then deposited into the fraudulent accounts.

In December 2011, law enforcement officers searched a van and two residences in Salisbury used by Devine and his co-conspirators. Hundreds of pieces of evidence were recovered including credit and debit cards, Social Security cards, fraudulent driver’s licenses and other personal information of roughly 300 individuals.

“Perpetrators of identity theft schemes are motivated by greed, acting as if they are above the law and with total disregard for the consequences to the victims, but today’s sentence has brought an abrupt end to Mr. Devine’s criminal behavior,” said IRS Special Agent In Charge Thomas Kelly. “