Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown say 111 individuals have been indicted in the largest identity theft takedown in U.S. history.
The suspects specialized in counterfeit credit cards as part of five organized groups based in Queens County and having ties to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
They 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.
Nearly two dozen of the defendants are also accused of participating in burglaries and robberies throughout Queens County. In one case, authorities said four defendants conspired to commit a bank robbery in Forest Hills. Five others are charged with stealing more than $95,000 worth of cargo from Kennedy Airport and seven are accused of stealing approximately $850,000 worth of computer equipment from the Citigroup Building in Long Island City.
"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. "Many of the defendants charged today are accused of going on nationwide shopping sprees, staying at five-star hotels, renting luxury automobiles and private jets, and purchasing tens of thousands of dollars worth of high-end electronics and expensive handbags and jewelry with forged credit cards that contained the account information of unsuspecting consumers."
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, according to the indictments, 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, which either had been requested or could easily be fenced and re-sold, typically over the Internet.
Some of the shoppers allegedly 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 Lamborghinis and Porsches and, in one instance, a private jet to take them from New York to Florida.
Among the local malls targeted were Queens Mall, the Westchester Mall, the Americana Mall, the Roosevelt Field Mall, the Walt Whitman Mall and the Smithtown Mall.
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.
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.