How a Man in Prison Stole Millions from Billionaires

Early in 2src2src, the architect Scott West got a call at his office, in Atlanta, from a prospective client who said that his name was Archie Lee. West designs luxurious houses in a spare, angular style one might call millionaire modern. Lee wanted one. That June, West found an appealing property in Buckhead—an upscale part

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Early in 2src2src, the architect Scott West got a call at his office, in Atlanta, from a prospective client who said that his name was Archie Lee. West designs luxurious houses in a spare, angular style one might call millionaire modern. Lee wanted one. That June, West found an appealing property in Buckhead—an upscale part of North Atlanta that attracts both old money and new—and told Lee it might be a good spot for them to build. Lee arranged for his wife to meet West there.

She arrived in a white Range Rover, wearing Gucci and Prada, and carrying a small dog in her purse. She said her name was Indiana. As she walked around the property, she FaceTimed her husband, then told West that it wasn’t quite what they had in mind, and that he should keep looking. West said that he’d need a retainer. She reached into her purse and pulled out five thousand dollars. “That was a little unusual,” West recalled.

Later that summer, Lee called again, with a new proposal. His wife, he said, had been “driving around Buckhead, and she came across this amazing modern house and thought it had to be a Scott West house.” She was right. The house, on Randall Mill Road, wasn’t quite finished, and it had not been on the market—but Lee told West that he was already buying it, from the owner, for four and a half million dollars. Now he wanted West to redo the landscaping and the outdoor pool, plus some interior finishes. West took another retainer, but he had other clients to attend to, and Lee grew impatient. Eventually, Lee asked West for his money back and began planning the renovations without him.

The renovations were supervised, as far as the neighbors could tell, by Indiana’s father, Eldridge Bennett, a sturdy man who drove an old Jaguar and wore a pair of dog tags around his neck. Neighbors described him as friendly but hard to pin down. He told one that he worked in the concrete business—and that he’d been on the team that killed Osama bin Laden—but gave another a card that identified him as the marketing manager for an accounting company. This neighbor noticed that a wine tower in the house was being stocked with Moët & Chandon (“thousands of bottles, like, twenty feet tall”) and asked who was paying for it all. Bennett told him that the new owner was in California, “working on music stuff.” Like many residents of Randall Mill Road, this neighbor is white. The Bennetts are Black. “It seemed like they didn’t come from money,” the neighbor said, “but they had sure found a lot of it.”

A closing meeting was scheduled for early September at a bank in Alpharetta, north of the city. By then, Lee and the Bennetts had made three down payments on the house, totalling seven hundred thousand dollars, most of which Indiana and Eldridge had delivered in rubber-banded bundles of cash. Lee told the seller’s attorney that they would deliver the rest—about three and a half million dollars—in similar fashion, at the closing. He couldn’t be there himself, he said, because he was still busy in California. (Lee, the lawyer recalled, said that he “represented a variety of entertainers and got paid in a variety of ways,” and also that he’d made money in Bitcoin.)

Because so much cash was going to be exchanged, the bank arranged for the closing to be held in its kitchen and break room, which offered some privacy. The bank also asked a local cop to be present. At the appointed time, Eldridge and a younger man carried several black duffelbags into the room and began handing stacks of bills to a bank employee, who spent the next three and a half hours counting them all. Afterward, on the phone, Lee asked the seller to complete a few punch items on the property. When the seller got to the house, he noticed that the door to a large safe that he’d installed—and which he’d left open—was locked, and that the combination had already been changed.

A few weeks after the close, Lee sent Scott West another e-mail. “I’m buying land in a month or so to start planning on designing a house 1srcsrc% to my liking,” he wrote. “I want to give you the ball and let you run the entire project. Let you go insane on your ideas. I’m thinking of a seven million dollar budget just for the house, not including the landscaping.” He suggested that the two of them “become a team.” West replied, as gently as he could, that he was too busy. A week before, he’d received a call from a federal agent, who asked him if he knew a man named Arthur Cofield. West said that he did not, and the agent began rattling off names. “He kept going through aliases until he said ‘Archie Lee,’ ” West told me. Arthur Lee Cofield, Jr., the agent said, resided in a maximum-security prison in Georgia. He had been incarcerated for more than a decade.

Arthur Cofield probably stole more money from behind bars than any inmate in American history. His methods were fairly straightforward, if distinctly contemporary: using cell phones that he’d had smuggled into prison, and relying on a network of people on the outside, he accessed the bank accounts of the very wealthy, then used their money to make large purchases—often of gold, which he’d typically have shipped to Atlanta, where it was picked up by his accomplices. Some of that gold he seems to have converted to cash: he and his associates bought cars, houses, and clothes, and they flaunted all of it on social media. (At one point, Cofield wrote on Instagram, “Making millions from bed.”) By the time Cofield was charged—with identity theft and money laundering, among other crimes—he had likely stolen at least fifteen million dollars. “I don’t know of anything that’s ever happened in an institutional setting of this magnitude,” Brenda Smith, a law professor at American University who has researched crime in prison, told me. Cofield, she said, was “something of an innovator.”

He didn’t arrive in prison as a man with a lot of connections or a history of fraud. He didn’t have much history at all—he was just sixteen. He had grown up in East Point, a poor and predominantly Black suburb southeast of Atlanta. A number of gangs operate there, but, if Cofield belonged to one back then, no one seems to have noticed. When he was a kid, dirt bikes were his passion. He began riding at a motocross track northwest of the city when he was little; at eight, he finished fourth at the Amateur National Motocross Championship, in Tennessee. A friend from his riding days told me that Cofield stuck out among the motocross crowd for two reasons: “He was African American, and he was freaking badass.” Cofield told the friend that he was called racial slurs by fans and other racers. “Nasty stuff,” the friend said. “It almost fuelled the fire.”

Competing in motocross is expensive, and Cofield’s father, who mostly made his living hanging drywall, converted a box truck into a trailer, with living quarters, so that the family could get Arthur to the big races. At one of those races, when Cofield was about fourteen, a gate collector noticed that more than eight thousand dollars had gone missing from the till, and told the track’s operators that Cofield had been lingering nearby when it vanished. “We went into Arthur’s mobile home and he had the money hidden in there,” a member of the family who owned the track told me. The family was fond of Cofield and his father, and declined to press charges, but it was the last time that they saw the Cofields at a race. Soon, Cofield began to “slack off from racing,” his friend said, adding, “That’s when everything happened.”

In October, 2srcsrc7, when Cofield was sixteen, he brought a gun into a bank in Douglasville, just west of Atlanta, and demanded that the tellers give him all the money they had. He walked out with twenty-six hundred dollars and headed for a stolen station wagon, where a friend of his older brother’s was behind the wheel. A smoke-and-dye pack hidden in a stack of bills exploded as he got into the car; the young men crashed soon after getting on the road. They ran but didn’t get far. The driver was sentenced to ten years and was paroled after three. Cofield got a fourteen-year prison sentence and ended up in a maximum-security facility in middle Georgia.

It took a few years and a couple of prison transfers before he became a more successful thief. Early in 2src1src, Cofield sustained cuts on his arm from a razor blade; according to a prison report, he initially told a guard that he’d cut himself shaving. But he later handwrote a carefully argued lawsuit alleging that he’d been attacked by a fellow-inmate and that prison staff had not only failed to intervene but knowingly allowed the assault to take place. Citing the damage to his motocross career, which he slightly embellished, he demanded more than a million dollars. A judge dismissed the suit on procedural grounds. Cofield was sent to another prison. Later that year, he was mailed a package containing bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Inside each bottle was a cell phone.

As smartphones have become more powerful and more ubiquitous, the barrier between life in prison and life on the outside has become more porous. Thousands of phones are confiscated from Georgia prisons every year, according to the state’s Department of Corrections. Prison guards are generally not well paid, and they are often bribed to assist in the smuggling or simply to look the other way. Most people in prison use phones in innocuous ways: to talk to loved ones, for instance—prison phone services are notoriously expensive—and to keep up with what’s going on in the world. In 2src1src, inmates at seven Georgia prisons used smuggled cell phones to organize a protest for better living conditions. But phones are also used to carry out drug dealing and other crimes. Authorities have recognized this problem for more than a decade now, but the phones keep coming.

In the years that followed Cofield’s first prison transfer, he was found with phones in his soapbox, taped around his waist, and inside his undershorts. Many more seem to have gone undiscovered. On one occasion, he told a guard seizing yet another phone, “I don’t give a fuck about that phone. I’ve had hundreds of phones.”

In 2src14, he was transferred again, to Telfair State Prison, in south Georgia. There he met a man named Devinchio Rogers, who was serving a seven-year sentence for manslaughter. Rogers grew up not far from Cofield, but he was a few years older, and flashier. Cofield is stocky and gruff—he was lean and muscular in his motocross days but put on weight in prison. Rogers was tall and stylish. He shared Cofield’s knack for getting cell phones behind bars. He’d attained some brief local notoriety in 2src11, when he began tweeting from inside Fulton County Jail. (His tweets were “littered with foul language and pictures of prison food, something that appears to be marijuana and himself,” a local TV station reported.)

Cofield and Rogers started a crew, which they called YAP, for Young and Paid. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of similar crews in Atlanta, many with three-letter names, most of them small-time. They are typically founded in prisons or on particular city blocks. Some are involved in the drug trade; some flaunt a connection to nationally known gangs, such as the Bloods; some aspire to be movers and shakers in hip-hop. The most famous of these crews is Y.S.L., which was allegedly co-founded by the rapper Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams. Like Cofield, Williams, who is Cofield’s age, grew up in East Point. He and more than two dozen other alleged members of Y.S.L. are currently facing RICO charges in Fulton County. They stand accused of crimes that range from drug dealing to murder. (Williams, who started a record label also called Y.S.L., has denied involvement in criminal activity.)

Cofield and Rogers adopted aliases, like hip-hop m.c.s, incorporating the name of their crew. Rogers went by YAP Football, or just Ball. Cofield called himself YAP Lavish. In March, 2src17, they filed paperwork to establish YAP Entertainment as a limited-liability partnership in the state of Georgia. YAP Entertainment, according to its filing, planned to provide “agents and managers for artists, athletes, entertainers, and other public figures.” Within about a year of the partnership’s formal creation, three hundred thousand dollars went missing from a bank account in Alabama.

The Alabama theft was probably not Cofield’s first big score, but it is the earliest, from his prison career, of which he has been formally accused. The target was a wealthy doctor. Cofield got hold of the doctor’s personal information, logged in to the doctor’s bank account, used money from the account to buy gold, and had the gold shipped to a UPS center near Atlanta, where someone else picked it up for him. According to a detective who has investigated Cofield and Rogers, the Secret Service, during the previous several months, had noticed a string of similar thefts, and began making inquiries. (The agency, which has jurisdiction over some federal financial crimes, declined to comment.) Eventually, the agency opened an investigation, and dubbed the case Gold Rush.

The year that followed, 2src18, was a big one for Cofield and Rogers. They were, evidently, beginning to bring in a lot of money, and they also seem to have been actively recruiting associates. This recruitment could allegedly be quite direct. A young woman named Selena Holmes was approached by a friend, who, according to Holmes’s former lawyer, said, “Look, there’s these guys in prison. They’re really rich. And all you got to do is talk to them. They’ll look out for you.” A few days later, the lawyer said, Cofield called Holmes on the phone. She was nineteen and had grown up poor on the west side of Atlanta. (Cofield may have known her through a family connection.) She had dropped out of high school after becoming pregnant and was working at Panera. Shortly after Cofield called, according to the detective, a man named Keonte Melton found her outside work and handed her fifteen thousand dollars. (Melton could not be reached for comment.)

Soon, Holmes and Cofield were spending hours together on the phone. She got a YAP tattoo and people began calling her YAP Missus—the queen to Cofield’s king. He bought her a Mercedes-Benz and rented a penthouse apartment for her in Buckhead. He also flew her first class to Los Angeles, to shop on Rodeo Drive, where she bought a three-thousand-dollar purse. (The detective believes that Holmes was running YAP-related errands.)

In May, 2src18, a video was posted to YouTube of a pool party that YAP threw at a “secret location” that looks a lot like a Buckhead mansion. The party was hosted by an aspiring rapper, Anteria Gordon, who had adopted the name YAP Moncho. Gordon, in the front seat of a Bentley, gives a shout-out to Lavish. “Nobody doing it bigger than us,” he says later, amid drinking and twerking revellers. Around this time, Gordon released a single called “Lavish,” mostly about spending large amounts of money (“two hundred thousand, blow it on a stripper”), and gave an interview to the YouTube channel Hood Affairs, sitting in an ornate gold chair at the same mansion where the party was held. Wearing a diamond chain that spelled “YAP,” Gordon shows his interviewer around the mansion, praising Missus and thanking Lavish, seeming to call him “the most richest motherfucker in the city.”

In June, Rogers was released from prison, and quickly began throwing money around, according to a person who knew him before he was incarcerated. “He bought four hundred and thirty-six pairs of Reeboks,” this person told me. “He had a line around Greenbriar Mall—people lined up to get those shoes that he paid for. He was giving them to kids.” This person also saw pictures of Rogers “standing on top of Mercedes-Benz trucks” and “living in penthouses.” (In one of them, there was a shark tank.) A lawyer for Rogers told me, “I’ve seen the photos, but he gets paid a lot because he’s attractive and he does social-media posts wearing different clothes and things of that nature. I don’t know if it’s called ‘influencing,’ but he’s a fashionista type.” As for YAP, the lawyer said, “their business did sign people and do social media and marketing—club things—and that’s what our client Mr. Rogers is good at.”

The detective who has investigated Cofield and Rogers believes that the two men were both building a brand and enlisting accomplices—mostly young men who had spent time in prison, plus a handful of young women with whom one of them had been romantically involved. The detective pointed, for example, to an attempted theft for which neither man was charged. A woman who worked at Wells Fargo, in Atlanta—and who had, according to the detective, exchanged “affectionate text messages” with Rogers—gave Keonte Melton access to a large account at the bank in August, 2src18. (Melton is the man who allegedly delivered Cofield’s cash to Selena Holmes.) The account belonged to one of the family businesses of John Portman, a famous Atlanta architect and developer who had died several months before. Melton tried to withdraw eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars; another Wells Fargo employee called two of the account’s signatories, who said that they had no idea who this withdrawer was. Melton was charged with an attempt to commit a felony; he pleaded guilty and is on probation.

The woman left Wells Fargo for another bank, then went into real estate. (She has also appeared in multiple episodes of the reality show “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta.”) When I reached her on the phone, she denied knowing any of the men involved. She does follow Rogers on Instagram; on her own account, she often posts pictures of herself in Lamborghinis or wearing diamond-encrusted watches, not only in Atlanta but in places like Dubai and Aruba. She was questioned by police in connection with the Wells Fargo theft but was never charged. (As part of Melton’s plea deal, he was ordered not to have contact with her.) “It was like a big ring that all of them were part of,” the detective said.

In the summer of 2src18, Cofield heard that Selena Holmes was growing close to a man she had met named Antoris Young. Cofield, perhaps flexing his growing power and resources, allegedly hired someone to kill him. The hit man, Teontre Crowley, tailed Young in a car; Rogers and Holmes followed in a separate vehicle so that Holmes could I.D. the target. Prosecutors say that the pair was on the phone with Cofield so he could be sure that the hit was carried out. Crowley shot Young around ten times outside a recording studio. Young survived but was paralyzed from the waist down.

Days later, according to the detective, Rogers threw a birthday party for Cofield at Club Crucial, on Atlanta’s west side. “They had ‘Lavish’ on the club’s marquee,” the detective told me. Within months, Holmes, Rogers, and Crowley had been arrested for the shooting. All pleaded guilty and are now in prison. (Cofield was also charged, and pleaded not guilty; the case against him is ongoing.) A lawyer for Holmes maintained that she had been forced at gunpoint to help Crowley identify Young; Holmes later filed to withdraw her guilty plea but was denied. Last summer, at a hearing related to her sentence, an investigator said, of Cofield, “He finds these women from the outside and kind of pretends like he owns them from the inside, using money and things like that, and they enjoy the life style, so they go along with it. And they’re O.K. with it, as long as the money is good.”

“I was a pretty girl in a strip club,” Eliayah Bennett, who goes by Indiana professionally, told me recently. “I wouldn’t say that I’m, like, a million-followers type of girl. But people know me. I danced for big people and stuff like that.” I had asked her how she and Cofield met. The full story would “probably take about two hours,” she said. I asked for the CliffsNotes. “Somebody seen my picture,” she said. “I don’t know who it was. And people was trying to find me. I was out of town. I think I was dancing in Miami or something, because, in the summer, Georgia gets slow. So one of my homegirls, they would have, like, stripper parties and I was invited to one. And that was it.” I waited for more. “It’s a real long story,” she said.

The detective offered me a shorter version: Cofield “wanted Selena to recruit a stripper and for them to have a girl-on-girl encounter in front of him on FaceTime,” the detective said, explaining that this detail came from Holmes. “That’s how Eliayah got involved. Then she and Cofield developed a relationship behind Selena’s back.”

Bennett told me that she and Holmes are very different. She said she comes from a more middle-class background and went to a good school—a charter school just north of the city. But, like Holmes, she began to live more fabulously after coming into Cofield’s orbit. She moved into a Buckhead home with separate floors for her mother and her father; she bought two Range Rovers and a four-hundred-thousand-dollar Rolls-Royce S.U.V.; she got breast implants and a nose job, though she said she funded those procedures herself. (“I’ve always had my own before Arthur,” she told me.) “When I talk to him, really it’s just to see me naked,” she told an investigator, downplaying the role of money in their relationship. “And that’s about it. And we’ll watch movies together.” They liked true crime, she told me.

She and Cofield were married, online, in July, 2src19. Afterward, she was approved to handle his finances. As his spouse, she received another privilege: she could no longer be compelled to testify against him. Meanwhile, Cofield’s reputation within the prison system continued to grow. A month after his marriage, Cofield was moved temporarily to Fulton County Jail to attend a court hearing related to the Antoris Young shooting. “The jail was buzzing,” a person familiar with the case told me. “You could hear it on calls from inmates using the jail phone system: ‘That guy Lavish is here!’ ”

Cofield was transferred to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison and later placed in solitary confinement in its Special Management Unit—a notorious facility that had been described by a social psychologist, a few years earlier, as “one of the harshest and most draconian such facilities I have seen in operation anywhere in the country.” There, he was kept alone for around twenty-three hours a day. But every prison has guards, and smuggling happens at all of them. Jose Morales was the warden of the prison when Cofield arrived. He described him as an unusual inmate. “The others were boisterous, loud, violent,” he told me. “Cofield was the opposite of that. Very cordial, very respectful.” Morales thought he was up to something.

In September, 2src19, the Secret Service was contacted by Fidelity Bank. Someone had breached a large account belonging to Nicole Wertheim, the wife of the billionaire investor Herbert Wertheim. This person had used more than two million dollars from the account to purchase gold coins and had then had the coins shipped to a suburb near the Atlanta airport. Investigators traced the I.P. addresses of devices that had accessed the account: one led to an apartment building in Buckhead, and another led to a Verizon cell tower near the Special Management Unit of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison.

Investigators informed Georgia’s Department of Corrections, which began looking for the second device. In November, guards at the Special Management Unit found two phones on Cofield, including one hidden in the rolls of his stomach. They gave the phones to prison investigators, who matched one of them to the Wertheim breach. The phone had a virtual private network that could mask its user’s identity by routing its connection through a private server, and it had a free app called TextNow, which is marketed as a provider of affordable phone service but can be used to disguise the number that a call or text is coming from. It also had several saved Yahoo and Gmail accounts that incorporated, presumably for the purposes of impersonation, the names of some of the richest men in the country, including the real-estate tycoon Sam Zell, the media mogul Sumner Redstone, the hair-care entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria, the businessman Thomas Secunda, and multiple founders of the global investment firm the Carlyle Group.

Cofield had apparently narrowed his targets to aging billionaires: men who were rich enough to not notice if millions went missing—and old enough, perhaps, not to have set up personal online-banking accounts. Secunda, who is in his late sixties, was the youngest person on the list. Two men on the list have since died: Redstone, less than a year later, at ninety-seven, and Zell, at the age of eighty-one, this past May. Before Redstone died, his Fidelity account was breached twice. (Secunda and the founders of the Carlyle Group declined to comment for this story; DeJoria told me that he hadn’t heard anything about Cofield’s scheme.)

Having identified a likely suspect in Georgia, the Secret Service turned the case over to Scott McAfee, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the state’s Northern District. In August, 2src2src, one of McAfee’s investigators was contacted by the brokerage firm Charles Schwab. Two people, working in tandem, had successfully impersonated the ninety-five-year-old clothier and Hollywood producer Sidney Kimmel and his wife, Caroline Davis. Kimmel, who had recently executive-produced “Crazy Rich Asians,” reportedly had a net worth of around one and a half billion dollars, and had several accounts with Schwab. Cofield created an online brokerage account in Kimmel’s name, then called Schwab, claiming to be Kimmel, in order to connect the new account to a checking account. Over the phone, he provided Kimmel’s Social Security number, his mother’s maiden name, his date of birth, and home address. Three days after that, someone claiming to be Kimmel’s wife called Schwab and asked about making a wire transfer. Half an hour later, Cofield submitted a signed form authorizing such a transfer. The transfer was for eleven million dollars. It was used to purchase gold coins.

An investigator who has listened to these phone calls told me that the vocal impersonations were not sophisticated. “It was a bad old man’s voice,” he said, of Cofield’s Kimmel. “Just gravelly.” Even so, he said, the representative from Schwab was deferential. “I don’t know if they checked every single security-protocol box before transferring that money,” the investigator said. “It really seemed, like, ‘Yes, Mr. Kimmel. Yes, sir.’ ” Schwab, at the phony Kimmel’s behest, wired funds to a company called Money Metals Exchange L.L.C., in Idaho. This company was also deferential, the investigator told me: “They’re, like, ‘Folks, I’ve researched this Sidney Kimmel guy, this could be a really good client. Let’s give him the V.I.P. treatment! Let’s get him that gold!’ ” (When I asked the company’s director, on the phone, for comment, he hung up.)

Cofield, still impersonating Kimmel, contacted security and logistics firms capable of transporting highly valuable assets from Idaho to Atlanta; that job was ultimately subcontracted to a man named Michael Blake. One night in June, just after 2 A.M., Blake landed on a private runway in Atlanta, during a heavy storm, with millions in gold coins in tow. He was met by two men in a Jeep Cherokee. The car was a rental, with Florida plates, which struck Blake as a little off. The driver showed him a license, and Blake loaded the gold into the car. He asked for a ride to a nearby hotel, due to the late hour and the weather, but the driver said no.

After the handoff, Cofield texted Blake with instructions to delete any photos that he had taken of the car or the driver’s license—and to send him a screenshot of his photo library and his deleted-files folder as proof. Blake, who had Googled Kimmel, thought this was an odd request to get, in the middle of the night, from a ninetysomething-year-old man. He complied, but he also kept a screenshot of the folder with the photos for himself.

Later, Cofield initiated another Schwab transfer, of eight and a half million dollars, again for the purchase of gold. But, before the transfer was complete, he cancelled the order and asked Schwab for a credit-line increase instead. At that point, a Schwab employee contacted a lawyer for Kimmel, who told Schwab that neither he nor his client had requested the transfer, or the previous one. (Kimmel’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. Last fall, he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that neither he nor Kimmel had knowledge of anything related to the theft, adding, “Mr. Kimmel was unaffected by whatever occurred.” According to the investigator, the Kimmel breach alone doubled Schwab’s average annual loss from fraud. Schwab, which reimbursed Kimmel, declined to comment on this figure.)

In the meantime, guards at Cofield’s prison found two more phones in his cell in the S.M.U. and gave them to a prison forensics unit. The timing was fortunate: Cofield had been using the TextNow app, on which messages can permanently expire, to communicate with Money Metals Exchange and with someone listed in the phone as Yum. Prosecutors believe that Yum is a bank employee who provided Cofield with a driver’s license and a utility bill that belonged to Kimmel. Federal investigators also contacted Michael Blake, who sent them his screenshot of the I.D. that the driver in the Jeep Cherokee had shown him. Investigators enlarged the screenshot and determined that the photograph on the I.D. was of Eldridge Bennett.

Cofield was indicted in December, 2src2src, and charged with aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. His lawyer, a prominent Atlanta attorney named Steven Sadow, declined to comment. (Sadow currently represents Donald Trump in the ex-President’s election-interference case in Georgia; Cofield’s legal team also includes Drew Findling, who represented Trump until Trump replaced him with Sadow, in late August.) Eldridge and Eliayah Bennett were indicted on conspiracy and money-laundering charges.

Soon afterward, a resident of Randall Mill Road was working at his kitchen table when he looked out the window. “Up comes a white locksmith truck followed by maybe ten black unmarked S.U.V.s,” he said. Armed federal agents circled the house. “I’m, like, ‘This ain’t good.’ It was right out of the movies.” The agents couldn’t get the house’s large safe open; McAfee, the Assistant U.S. Attorney, became convinced that that’s where the gold was. He tried, unsuccessfully, to subpoena the man who designed the safe, in Arizona. (“He was, like, ‘You’re not the real government,’ ” McAfee told me.) A team of six safecrackers finally got it open. It was empty. The vast majority of the gold that Cofield is known to have purchased with stolen money has never been accounted for. Laundering tens of millions of dollars in gold coins is not easy—it often requires dealing with transnational organizations capable of smuggling the gold out of the country.

Agents also searched the Bennetts’ place, seizing electronic devices, a Range Rover, a firearm, three hundred thousand dollars, and six Buffalo Tribute Proof gold coins, which were found on Eliayah’s desk. Cofield entrusted his wife with much of what he stole, and text messages between the two, discovered by investigators, suggest that this strained their relationship: on several occasions, Cofield seems to have become convinced that Bennett was going to steal, in turn, from him. “I get why u mad,” Bennett wrote at one point. “Cause U think I’ll steal a house from u. Like I don’t steal money from u I had Millions in my house for months. I know u love that house probably more than me I’ll never do that to u.”

“Phones were the key to his success,” Scott McAfee said, of Cofield, “but also his downfall. For me, it’s all there.”

A few months after Cofield was indicted, McAfee was appointed inspector general of Georgia. He handed the case off to another U.S. Attorney, who left the post after two years and then handed the case off yet again. McAfee’s successors both declined to comment for this story. (McAfee has since become a judge in Fulton County’s Superior Court. In August, he was appointed to oversee Donald Trump’s election-interference trial.)

In March, I got a call from Eliayah Bennett, who told me that she had Cofield on the other line. She then patched him through. Calmly and firmly, with a cool Georgia drawl, he told me that he was going to take a plea on the fraud and conspiracy charges. With Bennett listening in, the only matter he seemed intent on discussing, apart from the plea, was his connection to Selena Holmes, which he insisted did not exist. “In the story, if you don’t mind, don’t put this lady’s name anywhere close to mine, because she don’t know me,” he said.

The detective who investigated Cofield and Rogers described listening to hundreds of calls that Holmes made from a county-jail phone—many of which, the detective said, were obviously with Cofield. “He’d disguise his voice like he was an old lady when they talked, the same way he disguised it as an old man when he called the banks to take over the accounts. It was crazy Madea-type stuff,” the detective added, referring to the grandmother played, in several movies, by Atlanta’s own Tyler Perry. “They’d usually try to talk in code, and she’d slip up every now and then. When she’d get really angry, she’d write e-mails saying she was gonna tell everything that happened.”

Several people I spoke to expressed a fear that Cofield could try to retaliate against anyone whom he perceives to be working against him. He has, after all, been charged with ordering the murder of one person, and he committed most of his crimes while detained in maximum-security prisons—it’s not clear what authorities can do to make things more difficult for him than they are. Earlier this year, Georgia’s attorney general, Chris Carr, announced that he and twenty-one other attorneys general were pushing Congress to pass a law allowing states to jam phone reception in correctional facilities, which is forbidden as a result of the Communications Act of 1934. Todd Clear, a criminal-justice professor at Rutgers, told me that the better approach would be to allow people in prison to have cell phones, and to closely monitor their use. This, he noted, would also make prison life more humane.

A month after I spoke with Cofield, I attended his plea hearing, at a downtown courthouse. His high-priced lawyers made small talk about their ties while he hunched between them in his jumpsuit. He has a large tattoo on his neck, which was partly visible: “Laugh now, cry later,” it reads, alongside drawings of clowns.

After he pleaded guilty, lawyers for the government laid out the agreement that they had reached with him: a hundred and fifty-one months for fraud committed in Georgia and Alabama. The judge asked Cofield to explain what he’d done.

“What did I do,” he began. He took a deep breath. Without visible emotion, he described gaining access to bank accounts belonging to Sidney Kimmel and to the doctor in Alabama, using their funds to buy gold coins, and shipping the coins to Atlanta. “I got possession of it,” he started to say, when one of his attorneys cut him off. “I think that’s enough,” the lawyer said. The judge accepted this, then shook his head. “If you would have taken the ability and knowledge you have and put it towards something that was legal and right—” he said, in Cofield’s direction.

“I would be investing my money with him,” one of the lawyers said.

Eliayah Bennett, who has not yet entered a plea in her case, sat a few rows behind Cofield in the gallery. (Her father, who declined to comment for this story, has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.) Cofield smiled at her before a U.S. marshal escorted him out of the room. Later, the detective told me that another phone had recently been found in Cofield’s cell, and that he’d been Googling “U.S. marshal uniforms.” The detective suspected that he was trying to formulate an escape—that he wanted to get back to the free world, where he hasn’t set foot since he was sixteen. Devinchio Rogers is now in Ware State Prison, in south Georgia. His lawyer told me that, in July, he was stabbed multiple times. He is currently recovering, the lawyer said.

On one of my last visits to the house on Randall Mill Road, I saw that weeds had grown in the yard and around the unfinished pool. “Someone smashed a basement window,” a neighbor told me. “It’s attracted lots of activity and gawkers.” Neighbors said that they had also seen Eliayah Bennett around, late last year, in a Mercedes. “She was taking everything that wasn’t screwed down to the ground,” one said (including the Moëts). Bennett has opened a business in a North Atlanta strip mall offering facials and ombré brows. When I asked her on the phone whether she’d been by the house, she said, “I don’t want to talk about that.” Earlier this year, the government seized the property and put it on the market for around two and a half million dollars. It went under contract quickly. The new owner is an ophthalmologist. Proceeds will go to Cofield’s victims.

When I visited, it had not yet sold. As I stood outside, a black Lamborghini pulled up and parked nearby. Two well-dressed young men got out and ventured onto the property. When they returned to the street, one of them said to me, “The guy who built this house is in prison. Have you walked up on it? It’s nice.” This man turned out to be a real music producer, with the stage name of BricksDaMane. He mentioned his work with Drake, Future, and Lil Baby. (The Lamborghini was his.) I told him that I’d spoken with the architect who designed the house, and the producer asked me for his number. He wanted to chat with him, he said. He had some ideas for how it might be finished. ♦

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