SAN FRANCISCO — A Bay Area rapper best known for his hits during the so-called Hyphy Movement has been sentenced to seven years and three months in federal prison, court records show.
Amir Rashad, who goes by the stage name Kafani and is also known as Mark Hicks, was sentenced by US District Judge James Donato on Tuesday, months after Rashad, 42, of Oakley, pleaded guilty of conspiracy in a multi-million dollar fraud and identity theft ring. . Rashad is the latest of six defendants to be convicted, and a seventh person – whom authorities have not named – is a fugitive.
Rashad’s sentence is the longest of any defendant, and authorities say he played a leading role in a scheme to file loan applications on behalf of reluctant wealthy people. Silver was often converted into gold bars and coins and then sold for cash. Rashad’s attorney wrote that another co-defendant was, in fact, the leader and that it would be “absurd” to portray Rashad as anything other than a regular attendee.
“Because Mark Hicks is paralyzed from the chest down and is in a wheelchair, he is housebound and relies on others for everything. Although Mark Hicks used the Internet to obtain personal information about individuals, obtain credit reports on those individuals, and call banks and vendors posing as some of those individuals, Mark Hicks never left his room to carry out the actions of the conspiracy. Rashad’s attorney, Edwin Prather, wrote in court records. “The co-conspirators completed the plot without Mark Hicks.”
Prather added that Rashad has a modest lifestyle, relies on a caretaker for his basic needs and is not someone who “appreciates the trappings of a lavish or criminal lifestyle”.
Most of the victims lived in California, including several in the Bay Area, authorities said.
Rashad’s rap career began in the 1990s, but he rose to prominence in the Bay Area rap community in the early 2000s when he released “Fast (Like a Nascar)”, featuring featured Keak Da Sneak, a song that became a local hit and received national airplay. In 2013, while filming a music video in Oakland, Rashad was shot multiple times and paralyzed. He is confined to a wheelchair to this day.
Prather’s sentencing memo includes letters of support from Rashad’s family and other Bay Area performers, portraying him as an empathetic man who tried to help children and others in need. Prather wrote that Rashad is involved in a Solano County program called “Hip Hop with Disabilities”.
“Kafani has always taken care of his family and always says how much he loves his children. On vacation, he is always there to bring them joy and always brings them to see his mother and other relatives,” he wrote. Bay Area artist Keldamuzik in a letter of support, “His kids mean everything to him and having a second chance at life, he really wants to be there for him.”
In addition to Rashad, his brother and fellow rapper, Demarcus “Smurf” Hicks, 37, of Stockton, was sentenced to four years, records show. Another co-defendant, Susan Arreola-Martin, 72, was sentenced to seven years, but only because she was accused of supplying fentanyl to her granddaughter, who overdosed and died, so that she was on bail, authorities said.
As part of his plea deal, Rashad admitted he “led a team of criminals who stole approximately $2 million from banks and lending institutions” just months after he was released from prison in 2017, prosecutors said in a press release. The ringleaders of the fraudulent scheme allegedly recruited homeless people, including Arreola-Martin, and offered them tiny percentages of the proceeds to pose as victims of identity theft so that loan applications would be accepted.
One of the co-defendants, Christopher Pool, was homeless and in a relationship with Arreola-Martin when they were both recruited by people known as “King” and “Supreme”. Both lived in a tent in Stockton at the time and offered a share of the stock if they signed fraudulent loan documents. Arreola-Martin was recruited because “we need a grandmother,” Rashad reportedly told a co-defendant.
Arreola-Martin met with co-conspirators at a Starbucks in El Cerrito and signed $301,582 in fraudulent loan documents that ended up in a bank account controlled by Rashad, according to a sentencing memo from the prosecution. “King” was later identified as Dionysius Costello, whom Donato sentenced to four years and six months in federal prison. “Supreme” has never been publicly identified.
Pool was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, according to court records.
Similarly, co-defendant Leif Skorochod was homeless, seriously addicted to fentanyl, and living on the streets of San Francisco when he was approached by leaders of the fraud ring. He was eventually sentenced to 14 months and 15 days in prison.
Rashad, who is no longer in custody, is to surrender to authorities by October 17.