The term “identity theft” is one that makes anyone and everyone cringe. After all, there are few people who have not been effected by a fraud crime relating to Identity Theft. Unfortunately, when many people hear of this offense they often think large scale fraud involving social security numbers, bank accounts and thousands, if not many more, dollars. If you have been convicted of an Article 190 crime such as Third, Second or First Degree Identity Theft, then you don’t need a criminal lawyer or sealing attorney to advise you how adversely having such a conviction on your criminal record has impacted getting a job, securing a promotion, or merely finding solid employment. Fortunately, your question of whether you can seal or expunge a conviction for Identity Theft in New York can finally be answered. While most convictions that are neither legally defined as violent crimes nor considered sex offenses are initially eligible for sealing pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law 160.59, the same cannot be said for expungement. Do not panic. While New York does not expunge criminal convictions and “only” potentially seals certain crimes, sealing can potentially “erase” your criminal conviction from public view and New York Penal Law 190.78, 190.79 and 190.80 are all likely NY CPL 160.59 eligible offenses.
“Hate” is a relative term in this context, but its fairly reasonable to assert the NYPD (or any police department), District Attorneys and local, city and Supreme Court criminal judges hate Identity Theft. Its not such a great leap for a New York Identity Theft attorney, an accused or a bail bondsman to make. What is there to like about it? It costs New York City, New York State and the United States, both privately and governmentally, hundreds of millions or billions of dollars? And no, merely because you are accused of a New York Identity Theft crime amounting to merely a few hundred or a few thousand dollars will not give you a pass. To that end, one recent Saland Law PC client is likely ecstatic that multiple stupid mistake did not land the client in prison for a minimum of two to four years. Not only was this client arrested in Brooklyn (Kings County) and facing indictment for multiple counts of Second Degree Identity Theft (New York Penal Law 190.79), Second Degree Forgery (New York Penal Law 170.10) and a handful of misdemeanors including Petit Larceny (New York Penal Law 155.25), Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.40) and Third Degree Identity Theft (New York Penal Law 190.78), but this client was previously convicted of Third Degree Grand Larceny (New York Penal Law 155.35) thirteen months earlier in Manhattan (New York County). While the New York criminal lawyers and Identity Theft attorneys at Saland Law PC did not represent the client on prior the felony conviction, due to this conviction any new felony plea would require a minimum of two to four years in prison and a potential maximum of three and one half to seven years in prison. Due to the diligence and advocacy of Saland Law PC, the crash and burn finality as mandated by law upon a conviction was completely avoided.
New York Identity Theft investigations, arrests and prosecutions present themselves in a variety of ways. There are the fairly routine credit card theft and use cases and the more complex web of identity takeovers that extend to social security numbers and other personal identifying information. Although there are different subsections and degrees of New York Identity Theft (New York Penal Law 190.78, New York Penal Law 190.79 and New York Penal Law 190.80), one of the means by which these crimes are prosecuted is through establishing a “financial loss” to the complainant. As a former Identity Theft prosecutor who was part of a grant that led to the establishment of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Identity Theft Unit, the predecessor to the Cyber Crime and Identity Theft Bureau, I can tell you that “financial loss” can be in the multiple millions or in the single digits.
Irrespective of the actual “financial loss” suffered, a competent and knowledge New York criminal lawyer or Identity Theft defense attorney needs to fully comprehend the definition and meaning of “financial loss.” People v. Rosario, 2013 NY Slip Op. 23260 (Sup. Ct. New York) helps do just that.
The extent and amount of fraud that is perpetrated by Identity Theft is staggering. As a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who spearheaded many multi-million dollar Identity Theft, Forgery and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument investigations, arrests and indictments, I have certainly dealt with the underbelly of these financial crimes. As a New York criminal defense lawyer and IdentityTheft defense attorney, I have also represented numerous individuals accused of the same allegations that I prosecuted for years. While I have yet to be shocked by the means in which these crimes are committed or the extent of the alleged criminal networks involved, it seems clear to me that Identity Theft will be the central or greatest crime of our generation.
Along these lines, according to New York City newspapers, the NYPD has arrested four men in another alleged large scale Identity Theft ring. It is alleged that at least four Los Angeles and Las Vegas men (Garegin Spartalyan, Aram Martirosian, Hayk Dzhandzhapanyan and David Kudugulyan) and possible other accomplices, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manhattan banks by utilizing bogus or fraudulent credit cards to withdraw money and cash. More specifically, its is claimed by the NYPD that the accused were caught after one or more of the men attempted to withdraw money from “flagged” bank accounts. Further, upon investigation and the execution of search warrants, $198,000 in money orders as well as $16,000 in cash with 200 fake credit cards were recovered from a hotel room. This was on top of the $5,000 and 92 debit cards and $16,000 and 82 debit cards allegedly recovered from two of the defendants.
If not the fastest growing crime, Identity Theft is exploding in New York at a pace that is equal to or greater than almost all other offenses. As a former Manhattan prosecutor who was one of the original members of the first Identity Theft Unit and as a New York criminal lawyer who represents clients accused of New York Penal Law sections 190.78, 190.79 and 190.80, prosecutors are becoming as creative in investigating New York Identity Theft crimes as the accused are alleged to perpetrate the offenses.
As an Assistant District Attorney, I spearheaded an investigation into a large scale Identity Theft ring that involved individuals giving others permission to “steal” their identities for the benefit of third parties. An interesting theory not clearly addressed in the New York Penal Law, the defense attorneys who represented the accused did not challenge the indictment on the grounds that the evidence did not support Identity Theft in the First Degree. Years later, a similar, yet different, issue is now before the court. That is, can you steal the identity of a person who does not exist? People v. Debranche, 2012 NY Slip Op 22359, Criminal Court of the City of New York, New York County, attempts to answer this question.
Prosecutors, judges and New York criminal lawyers are seeing more and more arrests for Identity Theft and Unauthorized Use of a Computer. As misdemeanors, Identity Theft in the Third Degree (New York Penal Law 190.78) and Unauthorized Use of a Computer (New York Penal Law 156.05) are very serious and very real crimes in New York. In fact, not only is a conviction for one of these crimes permanent, but a sentence for up to one year in jail is on the table.
Very briefly, one is guilty of NY PL 190.78 when one knowingly, along with a desire to defraud another, assumes the identity of another person or uses that person’s personal identifying information and either commits another “A” misdemeanor crime (such as unauthorized Use of a Computer) or uses credit or obtains money or property of another person. One is guilty of NY PL 156.05 when one accesses or uses a computer, computer service or computer network without permission.
Stealing more than mere shekels, multiple alleged Identity Theft and check fraud rings pilfered $2 million from high worth individuals including the accounts of UJA-Federation donors. Although Hank Greenberg may not have noticed a few thousand dollars here or there, the alleged fraudsters are getting more than an “Oy Vey” from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. for their alleged identity thieving. In fact, some of the nearly sixty defendants arrested or accused of various crimes are facing charges including Grand Larceny in the First Degree, a “B” felony punishable by a mandatory minimum of one to three years in prison. The maximum for this crime is eight and one third to twenty five years, but these numbers are all skewed should any of these men or women have prior felony records from the past ten years. While alleged gang association does not necessarily mean a criminal past, prosecutors further claim the many of those arrested in New York were members of the Bloods and Crips.
According to the New York County press release as well as numerous media outlets, the scheme (like many involving Identity Theft) was fairly east to perpetrate. For Example, Tracy Nelson, an employee of the UJA Federation, processed donor checks. This access to sensitive and financial information gave her the opportunity to allegedly take pictures and copy account information of donor checks. It is further claimed by DANY prosecutors that Nelson then sold the copies to other thieves who would open fraudulent checking accounts or credit cards with this information.
While they may be best known for serving choice cut steaks, a few of New York’s most famous steakhouses may need to add an arrest profile to their Zagat’s ratings. According to reports, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.’s prosecutors busted a credit card fraud ring allegedly run by men and women whose day jobs were to serve as waiters at some of New York’s flagship restaurants. From Smith and Wollensky, Capital Grille and Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Manhattan to Morton’s in Stamford and the Bicycle Club in New Jersey, it is alleged that more than two dozen arrested waiters dined on patrons’ credit card numbers as their unsuspecting customers grazed on filet mignon, porterhouse and the occasional rib eye (bone in, of course). Although the allegations have yet to fully materialize, it is alleged that these waiters stole approximately fifty account numbers from the high-end credit cards, including the fabled American Express Black Card, and used these account numbers to go on expensive shopping sprees.
The means by which these accused waiters perpetrated the Enterprise Corruption, Identity Theft (although not technically charged with this crime), Grand Larceny, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument and other crimes is clear. The alleged fraudsters used hand held skimming devices to kick off the alleged scam. Fairly easy to purchase online, these devices can be hidden in one’s palm and can scan a credit card in the time it takes to take one swipe. Once the reader glides over the magnetic strip, the account number is then stored for later use. Armed with the credit card numbers, the alleged defendants then encoded a new credit card with the stolen account number.
As prolific as the drug trade was in Manhattan and all of New York City from the 1970s through the 1990s, Identity Theft has easily surpassed it. In fact, Identity Theft and related crimes have crept into almost every business – private and public – well beyond the offices and apartments of Gotham. Arguably, Identity Theft, in terms of the volume of crimes perpetrated and the associated damages, makes almost every other offense in the New York Penal Law seem pedestrian. Case in point, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance just unsealed an 81 count indictment against Nikolai Ivanov, Dimitar Stamatov and Iordan Ivanov for allegedly committing a fairly common and easy to execute scheme. Although this indictment is “insignificant” when compared to the Queens District Attorney’s Office’s indictment of over 100 people in a multi-million dollar Identity Theft scheme, It is alleged that N. Ivanov, Stamatov and I. Ivanov scammed as many as 1500 people by placing skimming devices and disguised cameras on ATMs early this year. These ATM machines, located in Astor Place, Union Square and the East Village, were treasure troves of personal information that prosecutors claim were used to help the defendants steal nearly $300,000.
The alleged debit card skimming scheme, one that is routinely perpetrated throughout New York and other cities and states, was fairly easy to pull off. It is claimed that the defendants placed devices on the “mouth” or access point where a customer would slide his or her debit card into an ATM machine. As the customer conducted his or her regular business, a hidden video camera pointed at the keypad recorded the PIN number or code used to access the bank accounts. With this information, the defendant’s then allegedly accessed the bank accounts at different locations in New York, Canada and other states. It is alleged by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office that the defendants placed eleven different skimming devices at four separate Manhattan ATM locations. Ultimately, however, it is alleged that one of the Ivanov brothers, along with Stamatov, was arrested in May when he attempted to retrieve one of the skimming devices in Manhattan.
Well before I became a New York criminal lawyer, I served for over seven years as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. During that time, I was appointed to the Identity Theft Unit upon its creation as well as the Major Case section where I investigated criminal networks immersed in multi-million dollar Identity Theft schemes. Many of these schemes crossed continents and involved dozens of individuals. None, however, were as large scale in terms of the number of people charged and arrested in Queens County. In fact, according to the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, District Attorney Richard Brown may have the “honor” of spearheading the largest Identity Theft scheme in the history of such cases in terms of individuals involved. That number, to be precise, is one hundred eleven. These defendants were indicted by a Queens Count Grand Jury for their various degrees of involvement in forged credit card and Identity Theft rings. While the crimes of Forgery, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument and Identity Theft are all felonies with a serious bite, prosecutors have flexed their muscles by also obtaining indictments for Enterprise Corruption, New York’s RICO statute.
Although “only” eighty-six of the defendants are in custody, Queens prosecutors claim that fake and fraudulent credit cards were created and used by these individuals to steal well north of thirteen million dollars during a sixteen month period. Thousands of American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover Card customers were the alleged victims. Additionally, some of the crew are even alleged to have perpetrated burglaries and robberies at Kennedy Airport and the Citigroup Building in Long Island City where they allegedly netted close to a million dollars of ill-gotten gains.