Cameron Banks mugshot

Cameron Banks. Provided

Everything seemed fine after Edelyne Osias drove back to South Florida from the Lowcountry after checking on her investment. 

It was 2018 and she had recently connected with a Mount Pleasant man, whom she would pay to lease a semi truck. He, in turn, would give her profits made from operating it. 

The man, Cameron Banks, took Osias to see trucks in Moncks Corner. She didn't know the story of Banks' past — checkered with fraud and theft allegations in the northeast region of South Carolina — as she looked on at the semis.

Osias met drivers, she said, and checked federal records. She went to his home to look at invoices. Banks was respectful and calm, she recalled. Osias, who has experience in the trucking business, said she was convinced.

So she paid up. And she took to her radio show, endorsing the business in Haitian Creole to her listeners, for the promise of a referral fee from Banks in return. More than 30 people, mostly Haitian immigrants living in Florida, signed on as investors. 

The money was paid to some, but by August it started to dry up. Months went by, then Osias got a call from a woman with the FBI.

“That’s when my stomach sank," Osias said in an interview.

What the FBI found is the latest in a string of fraud allegations against Banks made by state and federal investigators for over a decade. Court documents describe Banks as a cunning operator who has bilked victims of hundreds of thousands of dollars in schemes, shifting names, business plans, professional titles and blame to get money and avoid detection. 

The most recent charges, filed last month in federal court, say the truck-leasing business he sold Osias on was another fraud. One FBI agent said in a recent court hearing that the business, called Ameri-Trans Logistics and Express," looked like a Ponzi scheme." 

The cost to lease one truck from Banks: $12,000. A price that in some cases drained the life savings of his investors, many of whom were retired, Osias said. Some borrowed from their church to scrounge money together for the deal, she said. 

All told, Banks received around $287,000, according to prosecutors, the "overwhelming majority" of which was used to fund Banks' freewheeling spending. A long-running passion for cars has helped leave him nearly a half-million dollars in debt.   

Banks denies the latest allegations against him, but federal charges are nothing new for the 34-year-old. 

Investigators uncovered the truck-leasing business while pursuing another federal case in which Banks is accused of health care fraud, money laundering, identity theft and obstructing an investigation, among other charges, according to a federal indictment. That followed a state investigation into a suspicious fire at an Horry County church, which led to Banks' arrest on suspicion of insurance fraud.  

“Banks is a serial fraudster who has already demonstrated, not once but repeatedly, that he will not obey conditions of court-ordered supervision and that he will continue to commit fraud crimes," federal prosecutors said in court documents filed this month. "This is not merely argument. It is indisputable based on his conduct.”

The fire

Conway firefighters were suspicious as they fought the late afternoon blaze at the Abundant Faith Lighthouse of Jesus Christ Church in July 2016. State arson investigators who looked through the charred remains determined the fire was intentionally set. They questioned the church's pastor. 

Banks came forward as the "senior pastor" of the church. He had purchased it more than two years earlier but he wasn't using it much — holding only one "installation ceremony" since then, according to a police report and court records. 

He bought the church from Jason Cook, a pastor of a church congregation that used to meet in the building, for $328,400 in February 2014. 

Financially, Banks was in trouble. Since the purchase, he had not paid more than $8,100 in property taxes for 2015. He also had not paid his $1,800 mortgage installment in May 2016 and failed to insure the property, investigators found. 

Suspicions about the fire deepened. Investigators found that 10 days before the blaze a woman had called Conway police to say that a unknown person was sleeping in an upstairs mechanical room in the church. Two officers searched the home but didn't find anything.

The caller said she wanted to report the homeless person in case the church burned down. Officers noted that she made "numerous comments regarding the cost of the insurance for the church and how they had to document each time there was evidence someone was staying in the church for their insurance company, in the event there was a fire," according to a police report. 

Banks had a $1.62 million policy on the church and its contents, the report said. 

Firefighters discovered something else unusual behind a locked door in the church: dental records belonging to Dr. Cornelius Beck, Banks' former employer.  

Beck was treated as a possible suspect after a woman came forward with text messages that alleged Beck offered $10,000 to burn down the church. 

But cellphone records showed no contact between Beck and the woman, investigators found. He also showed no deception during a polygraph, an investigator wrote in a report. 

Less than two months after her accusation the woman recanted her story. 

During a March 2017 meeting with investigators she came clean. The text messages that she showed to support her story were actually fakes. Banks had given her the forged messages, she now said, coaching her on what to say. He'd worn a sock on his hand when he gave her the forged messages, she told the investigator, in an apparent attempt to not leave fingerprints on the document. 

She was blinded by love when she gave the bogus story, she said, according to court documents. Before she confessed, the woman said Banks had called to tell her not to meet with law enforcement, prosecutors said. 

Banks' history with Beck, the dentist, was even more intertwined.  

Prosecutors, in a March indictment in a 2017 federal case, said that Banks listed the dentist as a co-applicant on a loan application to purchase a $212,000 Bentley sedan, though the dentist was not aware of the loan. They also accused Banks of paying an unnamed person money to accuse the dentist of wanting to murder Banks. That, and the church fire, were both attempts by Banks to conceal his involvement in fraudulent loans, the indictment said.  

Banks has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Beck died in October 2017, according to an online obituary. 

Cook, the pastor who sold the church to Banks, said he rushed over from a baseball game when he got word that his former church was on fire. The congregation had been using that church for decades — with some of the adult members going there since they were babies. 

“It probably was the most sad, sinking feeling that I felt in a long time," Cook said in an interview. "Watching that church in flames."

The church has since been demolished, he said.

Charges against Banks for burning property to defraud an insurer and obstructing justice were filed in 2017 and are pending in Horry County court. 

Money problems

As accusations of illegal activity have piled up for Banks, so have his expenses. 

A $2,500 chunk of the money collected by the truck leasing business went to rent payments on his Mount Pleasant home, FBI agent Suzanne Nash said during court testimony this month. The home is in a recently built subdivision near Wando High School. Another $800 went for seafood for a July Fourth party, Nash said. And $8,000 was used on car payments. 

Banks' love of cars may have caught up to him. 

Last month, he told a federal bankruptcy court that he was on the hook for more than $90,000 combined for payments on a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, a 2018 Chevrolet Camaro and a 2015 Mercedes S550. 

Bankruptcy claim records from February show he owed money on cars even after they were repossessed and sold: more than $31,700 on a Hyundai Sonata, nearly $22,200 for a Cadillac Escalade, almost $14,000 on a Chevrolet Tahoe and roughly $7,300 on a Chrysler 300. 

The bankruptcy case, filed this year, is his second in federal court since 2017. 

American Express, the U.S. Department of Education and the IRS have all filed claims in the case, saying that they are owed money. In all, creditors have claims totaling more than $480,800 in unpaid debts. 

Allegations that Banks profited off others for his own gain are another familiar theme in court papers. In March 2017, he was arrested by South Carolina Department of Revenue investigators after he was accused of defrauding an Horry County business of nearly $139,000 for his own use. 

State investigators also accused Banks of filing three tax returns without the consent of other taxpayers. They also found he claimed more than $34,000 in fraudulent state tax refunds and evaded paying more than $31,000 in state taxes. 

He pleaded guilty to those charges and was still serving his 40-month probationary sentence when federal prosecutors announced the latest case against him. 

Earlier troubles with the law

Banks' legal troubles date to the days when he went by a different name, as a younger man in the Georgetown area. 

In 2005, while known as Reggie Staggers, he pleaded guilty to identity fraud, crimes against a financial institution, forgery and writing a fraudulent check. He was sentenced to five years in prison.  

He was accused of using two credit unions and a Bank of America to pass worthless checks among them as part of a "check-kiting" scheme, according to court records. The bank and credit unions lost more than $6,000 combined.

He had also used an ATM to take out more than $300 from his father's bank account, according to court records. An investigation by Carolina First Bank found he had fraudulently obtained a bank card. 

In early 2013, Banks was hired to work in several dental offices owned by Beck, prosecutors said. At the time he was still going by his birth name, Reggie Staggers. Soon after he changed his name to Cameron J. Banks, in an apparent effort to match Beck's initials, according to court documents. 

That's the name under which he is now booked at the Charleston County jail.  

Michael O’Connell, who is representing Banks on the 2017 federal case, declined to comment or make Banks available for an interview. Scott Harvin, Banks' attorney on the latest federal case, said Banks intends to plead not guilty at an arraignment on Tuesday. 

In the meantime, Osias said she is trying to do her best to repair her damaged reputation after backing Banks. 

“That’s my community," she said. "That’s how I make a living."

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Reach Stephen Hobbs at 843-937-5428. Follow him on Twitter @bystephenhobbs.

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