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Gavel and scales

BALTIMORE — A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging Stephen L. Franklin, 53, and Duane G. Larmore, 46, both of Salisbury, for federal conspiracy, wire fraud, and identity theft charges in connection with the theft of at least $900,000 from Shore Appliance, where Larmore worked. The indictment was returned late on Aug. 24.

The indictment was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner and Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office.

According to the 10-count indictment, from mid-September 2016 through about March 2020, Franklin and Larmore conspired to steal at least $900,000 from a Salisbury company, Shore Appliance Connection, owned and operated by Owner #1 and Owner #2, that sold household appliances as well as mattresses and bedding. Larmore was an employee at Shore Appliance whose duties included maintaining the books and records for the company. Franklin was the Chief Executive Officer of Accurate Optical, headquartered in Salisbury, which had locations in Easton, Cambridge, Kent Island, Ocean City and Berlin on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as well as being the CEO and part owner of East Coast Optometric, with locations in South Carolina.

Specifically, the indictment alleges that the defendants stole in excess of $900,000 from Shore Appliance to use for their own purposes, including to make investments and to pay business expenses for Accurate Optical and East Coast Optometric, without the knowledge and consent of the owners of Shore Appliance.

The indictment alleges that Franklin and Larmore invested in the following: in 2016, a $100,000 investment with T.H.; a $95,000 investment with GenFinance II, PLC, London, U.K., which then required an additional $300,000; and then additional funds for a surety bond and travel abroad; in 2018, an investment through W.S. of $35,000 and an investment through J.B. of $50,000; and in 2019 — 2020, investments and expenses through I.P. and E. P.-S. to obtain U.S. currency purportedly returned to the United States from humanitarian relief projects abroad, and other similar investments. The charges include wire transfers from Shore Appliance’s account to East Coast Optometric and from there to banks in the U.K. and Hong Kong. The indictment alleges that no investment paid any return to the co-schemers.

To conceal how much money had been removed from Shore Appliance and to obtain cash, the defendants allegedly used the identities of the owners to enter into factoring contracts. Factoring is a means by which businesses, like Shore Appliance, can obtain cash quickly by leveraging accounts receivable. As detailed in the indictment, the factoring contracts purportedly between Shore Appliance and various factoring companies, provided cash deposits to Shore Appliance’s bank accounts but encumbered the accounts receivable of Shore Appliance and required payments and interest of more than $725,000.

In addition, the defendants allegedly used Larmore’s position of trust with Shore Appliance and signature authority over its bank accounts to draw on Shore Appliance’s lines of credit with two separate financial institutions to obtain another $200,000 in cash to conceal their use of Shore Appliance’s funds.

To obtain contracts with factoring companies for Shore Appliance, Larmore allegedly used his own email address and cell phone number with factors but identified that email address and cell phone number as belonging to Owner #1. Larmore also allegedly provided the factors with details of the owners’ identities, including dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and Maryland drivers’ licenses, without their permission.

To conceal the fact that the owners were not aware of and had not approved the factoring contracts, the indictment alleges that: the signatures of the owners were forged and Franklin witnessed or notarized the fraudulent signatures; and that Larmore and a female employee of Franklin’s posed as the owners in telephone conversations with representatives of the factoring companies. Finally, the indictment alleges that when Franklin’s companies had financial problems, at Franklin’s request Larmore provided funds from Shore Appliance for Franklin’s companies.

If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for a wire fraud conspiracy and for each of seven counts of wire fraud; and a mandatory sentence of two years in federal prison, consecutive to any other sentence imposed, for each of two counts of identity theft. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner commended the FBI for its work in the investigation.

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