111 individuals have been indicted in the largest identity theft takedown in U.S. history.
The defendants, members of five organized forged credit card and identity theft rings based in Queens County and having ties to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, are charged in ten indictments with stealing the personal credit information of thousands of unwitting American and European consumers and costing these individuals, financial institutions and retail businesses more than $13 million in losses over a 16-month period.
Eighty-six of the defendants are in custody and twenty-five are presently being sought, announced the Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown. In addition, nearly two dozen of the defendants are variously charged in six indictments with participating in burglaries and robberies throughout Queens County.
District Attorney Brown said that more than ninety of the defendants have been charged in five indictments charging 784 pattern acts with, among other crimes, Enterprise Corruption under New York State’s Organized Crime Control Act. They are accused of being members and associates of organized criminal enterprises that operated in Queens County and elsewhere and that, between May 2010 and September 2011, systematically schemed to defraud thousands of unsuspecting consumers and financial institutions – such as American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover Card.
According to the indictments, the defendants fraudulently obtained credit card account numbers through various means and which were then used to manufacture forged credit and identification cards. Once the counterfeit cards were created, they were ultimately given to teams of “shoppers” who were sent out on shopping expeditions in New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Los Angeles and other areas of the United States to purchase high-end electronics and other merchandise – such as designer handbags, game consoles and jewelry – which either had been requested or could easily be fenced and re-sold, typically over the Internet.
It is alleged that during the shopping sprees, some of the shoppers used forged credit cards to stay at such five-star hotels as the Fontainbleau and The Royal Palm in Miami Beach and the Las Casitas Village, the high-end private villas of the El Conquistor in Puerto Rico. They are also alleged to have used forged credit cards to rent such luxurious automobiles as Lamborghinis and Porsches and, in one instance, a private jet to take them from New York to Florida.
The District Attorney said that the investigation – dubbed “Operation Swiper” – leading to the indictments and this week’s arrests began in October 2009 when police officers assigned to the Police Department’s Identity Theft Squad commenced a joint investigation with the District Attorney’s Economic Crimes Bureau into an identity theft ring operating in the South Ozone Park section of Queens. The investigation involved physical surveillance, intelligence gathering and court-authorized electronic eavesdropping on dozens of different telephones in which thousands of conversations were intercepted – many of which required translation from Russian, Mandarin and Arabic to English.
The indictments charge that Imran Khan, Ali Khweiss, Anthony Martin, Sanjay (a/k/a/ Rocky) Deowsarran and Amar Singh were”bosses” of criminal enterprises and received the necessary raw material – lists of credit card account numbers and various blank credit cards. The materials were alleged to have come from overseas – unknown individuals in such places as Russia, Libya, Lebanon and China – or from statewide suppliers, such as “skimmers” (individuals who worked in a restaurant or bar, retail store or financial institution and used a skimming device to swipe a consumer’s credit card information) or “Internet suppliers” (who obtained credit card accounts through illegal web sites).
According to the indictments, the boss then allegedly sent the stolen account numbers to a “manufacturer” who re-encoded the information onto the magnetic strips of blank credit cards using a “reverse” skimming device. The manufacturer was also allegedly responsible for putting the written four security numbers on the front of a credit card, as well as the seven security numbers on the back, as well as writing and embossing the account number on the credit card.
In some cases, the manufacturer also placed the artwork and logos from financial institutions on the blank cards. In other cases, the manufacturer also allegedly made forged government identification – such as a New York State driver’s license – to match the name that was on the forged credit card.
Once the forged credit cards were completed, the items were distributed to the criminal enterprise’s “shopping crews,” which consisted of “crew leaders”and “shoppers.” Crew leaders allegedly supplied the fraudulent items to the shoppers and oversaw their planned shopping expeditions throughout New York and the United States.
It is alleged, for example, that crew leaders would, at times, direct their shoppers to purchase requested electronic merchandise in a specific store or mall. Among the local malls targeted by the shoppers were Queens Mall, the Westchester Mall, the Americana Mall, the Roosevelt Field Mall, the Walt Whitman Mall and the Smithtown Mall. It is further alleged that, at times, the shoppers shipped out-of-state purchases back to New York via Federal Express and UPS and used the forged credit cards to purchase plane tickets.
According to the charges, aiding the shoppers were collusive store owners or employees who worked within a particular retail store where the shoppers were making their purchases or in a bank where they had access to cardholder information and could check the information for high value targets and/or steal credit card information from the available files. In the Khan/Box criminal enterprise, according to the charges, attorney Susan Persaud assisted the enterprise by advising her clients prospectively on how to commit new crimes and evade law enforcement. In addition, Persaud allegedly obtained payment in the form of illegally obtained items, such as expensive designer shoes.
Sometimes, a fraud ring would employ an “impersonator,” an individual who contacted financial institutions or retail stores and impersonated the true cardholder and made inquires in order to check the viability of the credit. Also employed were “bust out crews,” individuals who used the skimmed information of another member of the criminal enterprise to make thousands of dollars in purchases. For example, it is alleged that defendant Nelson Feliciano, who owns a security firm, allowed others to make a counterfeit credit card using his business account information and to use that account to make $50,000 in purchases before claiming that the charges were fraudulent and that he was a victim of identity theft.
According to the indictments, once a shopper purchased high-end merchandise with forged credit cards, the merchandise was turned over to the crew leader who, in turn, gave the merchandise to the boss of the operation. The boss would then allegedly contact a “fence” – such as Fnu Gustawian, Kah Sheng Poh, Allen Lam or Benny Ahoo Ahdoot – and sell the merchandise to the fence at a discounted price. The fence, in turn, would then allegedly offer the merchandise for re-sale to the public. It is alleged, for example, that Gustawain purchased Apple products and other high-end electronics while Ahdoot would be contacted regarding high-end jewelry, specifically watches such as Rolexes and Breitlings.
District Attorney Brown noted that, as part of the investigation, court-authorized search warrants were executed earlier this week at fifteen locations throughout New York City and Long Island – including several “mills” where the fraudulent documents were generated. Among the items allegedly recovered as a result of the search warrants were approximately $650,000 in cash, seven handguns (two defaced), a box truck full of electronics, computers, shoes and watches, skimmers, card readers, embossers and various amounts of raw material, such as blank credit cards and fake identifications.
“This is by far the largest – and certainly among the most sophisticated – identity theft/credit card fraud cases that law enforcement has come across,” said District Attorney Brown. “Credit card fraud and identity theft are two of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, afflicting millions of victims and costing billions of dollars in losses to consumers, businesses and financial institutions.”