Hoopeston-native twins get longest sentences yet

Hoopeston-native twins get longest sentences yet

OKLAHOMA CITY — The misdeeds of notorious twin sisters Birdie Jo and Becky Jo Hoaks have again caught up with them, but this time, the Hoopeston natives broke federal laws and were sentenced to prison on Tuesday for defrauding the U.S. postal service.

Identical twins Roberta "Birdie" Jo and Becky Jo Hoaks, 47, grew up in Hoopeston but did not begin their lives of petty crime until they became adults and left their northern Vermilion County hometown.

The pair were sentenced Tuesday — five years for Birdie Jo and four years for Becky Jo — to federal prison for conspiring to steal U.S. postage stamps, according to Mark A. Yancey, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.

It's the first federal conviction for the pair who have a decades-long criminal history of fraud that stretches across the country.

Recently living in Choctaw, Okla., they were indicted in May on charges of conspiracy and theft of government property.

According to the indictment, from June 2016 through February, the sisters opened personal checking accounts at various banks, using small cash deposits ranging from $5 to $200, and working together, wrote dozens of bogus checks at U.S. post offices and contract postal units throughout western Oklahoma to obtain thousands of U.S. postage stamps. According to federal authorities in Oklahoma, there's an online market for stamps.

Both sisters pleaded guilty to conspiracy in June, agreeing to $61,993.38 in restitution, mostly to the U.S. Postal Service, and on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge David L. Russell sentenced Birdie Jo Hoaks, who has a son, to the statutory maximum five years in prison, and Becky Jo Hoaks to four years.

According to federal officials, even if the sisters earn the maximum credit for good behavior, each must serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentences, and both will serve three years of supervised release after their prison terms.

It's the longest prison sentence yet for the sisters who have extensive criminal histories of fraud spanning more than two decades in jurisdictions from New York to California.

For years, the sisters have used their 5-foot, 1-inch stature, androgynous appearance and childlike voices to pass themselves off as young, homeless boys to get medical and social services, food, shelter and money. Authorities say the pair, who have worked together and alone, have been involved in such incidents in South Dakota, Montana, Vermont, Utah, Maine, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Idaho, Arizona, California, Alaska and Louisiana.

Their escapades have repeatedly made headlines, even television in 2012, when the twins were featured in a "Dateline" NBC investigative report.

One of their more infamous scams occurred in a small Kansas town in 2004, when 33-year-old Birdie Jo posed as an abused 13-year-old boy with Becky Jo posing as his aunt. They received assistance from a local church congregation, and after their hoax was discovered, they were charged with fraud. But local authorities eventually dropped the charges, and local church members forgave them and continued to help the sisters. Then two years later, the duo stole the congregation's safe.

And they first gained national notoriety in 1995, after Birdie Jo told child welfare workers in Salt Lake City that she was a 13-year-old boy abandoned at a bus stop by his father and stepmother before his Christmas birthday. The story prompted an outpouring of sympathy as well as Christmas and birthday gifts, money and offers of shelter.

The scam was discovered after a physical revealed the then-25-year-old woman's bound breasts and a scar from a Caesarean section. Birdie Jo Hoaks served only two months of an 18-month prison sentence after being found guilty of misdemeanor theft of services and making false statements in that case.

In this latest federal case, Birdie Jo's sentencing documents were sealed by the federal judge, but Becky Jo's were not. According to those documents, Becky Jo has been arrested 19 times and convicted 11 times, but has been incarcerated only once.

The Hoakses were born in 1970 and raised by their grandmother in Hoopeston, where they were known as loners. After graduating from Hoopeston-East Lynn High School in 1988, they entered the National Guard, completed basic training in New Jersey and were eventually discharged.

According to the federal sentencing documents, the sisters never knew their father, were abandoned as babies by their mother and were raised by their grandmother who was poor and did her best, keeping them out of trouble with the law until their adult years, when, a few years after their grandmother's passing, they committed their first crime.

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