The inmate who orchestrated the theft of $11 million from a billionaire movie producer pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to that crime and others, telling the judge how he pulled off the heist from inside a Georgia maximum security prison.
During a brief hearing, Arthur Lee Cofield Jr. described for U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones how, using a cell phone, he gained access to a Charles Schwab account, arranged a wire transfer to purchase one-ounce gold coins and had the coins transported to Atlanta on a private plane.
The victim’s name was not mentioned in the hearing, but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously determined that the account belonged to Sidney Kimmel, founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based company responsible for “Hell or High Water,” “Moneyball,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and other well-known films.
Cofield, 31, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. He also pleaded guilty to separate federal wire and mail fraud charges that were filed last week in a criminal information in Alabama.
The Alabama case indicates that Kimmel may not have been the only victim. Cofield’s plea agreement included his admission to the Alabama charges, described in court documents as conspiracy to use contraband cell phones to gain access to victims’ online accounts. Funds stolen from those accounts were used to purchase precious meta ls, which were then delivered to a United Parcel Service center in Alabama, according to the documents.
Sentencing is scheduled for July. The plea agreement included a recommended sentence of 151 months in prison as well as what is expected to be millions in restitution.
Cofield’s case, first detailed by the Journal-Constitution last October, has drawn national attention while vividly showing how even the most closely guarded inmates in the Georgia prison system can continue to break the law.
When Cofield committed his crimes, he was incarcerated in the Department of Corrections’ Special Management Unit. The Butts County facility is supposedly the toughest managed by the state prison system. Yet even inside the SMU, as it’s commonly known, Cofield was able to obtain the contraband cell phones and outside help necessary to orchestrate his elaborate scheme.
Cofield, wearing an orange prison uniform, told Jones that he’d only gone to school through the seventh grade. The judge noted with amazement that Cofield had carried out the complex financial crime while behind bars, stating that the inmate could have put his “ability and knowledge” toward something legal.
Cofield’s high-profile Atlanta attorneys, Steve Sadow and Drew Findling, declined comment after the hearing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia also declined to comment.
Cofield, a documented gang member, was nearing the end of a 14-year state prison sentence for robbing a bank in Douglasville when he was indicted on the federal charges in December 2020. He was released by the GDC in October 2021 and then taken into federal custody, where he remains.
Kimmel, 95, is the founder of the apparel company Jones New York. After selling it for $2.2 billion in 2014, he turned his attention to movies, forming Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.
An investigation headed by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service found that Cofield assumed Kimmel’s identity to gain access to the billionaire’s Charles Schwab account, at one point calling Schwab as Kimmel. Told that he needed some form of ID and a utility bill, Cofield came up with a photo of Kimmel’s driver’s license and a copy of his Los Angeles water bill.
Cofield — again posing as Kimmel — used the $11 million to purchase 6,106 American Eagle gold coins from an Idaho company. He then arranged for a private plane to bring the coins to Atlanta, where he turned $4.4 million of it into cash to buy a house in Buckhead that was then under construction. The scheme played out in the summer of 2020, shortly before investigators unraveled it.
The feds allege that Cofield had the help of two people on the outside: 65-year-old Eldridge Bennett and his 27-year-old daughter, Eliayah Bennett. Charges in their cases are still pending.
The criminal information in Alabama, filed last Thursday, points to earlier schemes. It says Cofield, while in the Special Management Unit from January 2018 to February 2019, used contraband cell phones in crimes similar to those in the Kimmel case.
Cofield was moved to the Special Management Unit in 2018 after prosecutors in Fulton County alleged that he ordered the shooting of an Atlanta man from inside Georgia State Prison. The shooting left the victim, 36-year-old Antoris Young, paralyzed from the waist down.
As part of that case, Cofield was shown to be the leader of a group known as Yap — short for young and paid — that had accumulated substantial sums of money as a result of his crimes inside the GDC.
Cofield still faces attempted murder and other charges in that case, in which Young was shot multiple times as two of Cofield’s Yap associates drove past him in separate vehicles in a parking lot on Metropolitan Parkway.
The two associates, 30-year-old Teontre Crowley and age 37-year-old Devinchio Rogers, entered guilty pleas on April 10, the day they were due to stand trial. Crowley, the shooter, received a 30-year prison sentence: 20 for criminal gang activity and 10 for attempted murder. Rogers received 15 years on the gang charge.
Prosecutors allege that Cofield ordered the shooting because he believed Young had become romantically involved with Selena Holmes, a young Atlanta woman with whom Cofield had developed a phone relationship. Described by a prosecutor as “Yap Missus,” Holmes is reputed to have received $15,000 in cash, a Mercedes and a penthouse apartment in Buckhead through her relationship with Cofield.
Holmes, 24, was also charged with playing a role in the shooting —essentially as a lookout —and was sentenced to a 15-year prison term after pleading guilty in June 2021.