Operation Swiper: Queens DA Notches 111 Person Indictment in International Identity Theft Scheme

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.

According to the “Operation Swiper” press release:

“[T]he 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 – 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.”

Although this ring may be the largest, it is far from unique or original in its matter of alleged scheming. For example, collusive merchants, businesses that were “in” on the fraudulent credit card transactions, would allegedly permit the fraudsters to use the credit cards at their businesses. Also, holders of the fake credit cards attempted to “bust out” the accounts. “Bust outs” have been a trade of identity thieves and credit card fraudsters for some time. In “bust out” cases, credit cards are often maxed out and paid off with a fraudulent payment that is credited. Shortly thereafter, the payment bounces. By the time the credit card company recognizes this (or actually cares – its the price of doing business to them), the fraudster has doubled or tripled the maximum credit limit. Additionally, fake credit cards were made to be used with fake identification. Embossed on these cards was the real accounts of the alleged victims. None of this, although enormous in scale, is new or unique. The problem for the defendants, however, is that they may be liable not only for the aggregate loss of the particular thefts they were involved in, but they are charged as a criminal enterprise or organized crime.

It will be interesting to see how the defenses and deals play out. Will prosecutors look to plea out lower level players and concentrate on higher level defendants? Will misdemeanor offers be made or will there be a hard line stance on felonies? Even if offers are made, was the group truly a “criminal enterprise” in that there was an actual structure amongst these men and women who also shared a common goal to benefit that enterprise. Alternatively, was this a loose group of individuals who neither knew nor took orders from superiors? Do these defendants have a factual or legal defense?

Should these defendants be convicted of Enterprise Corruption (NY PL 460.20), there is a mandatory minimum of one to three years in prison for a first time offender. Regardless, anyone can face up to twenty-five years in jail. Beyond Enterprise Corruption, the defendants are all charged with one or more of the following: Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (NY PL 155.35), Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (NY PL 155.30), Identity Theft in the First Degree (NY PL 190.80) and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree (NY PL 170.25). Because the alleged thefts involved numerous different people, the thefts were not aggregated all together, but into lesser felony crimes. These Grand Larcenies are “D” and “E” felonies punishable by up to seven and four years in state prison respectively. Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument and Identity Theft in the First Degree are “D” felonies as well.

To better understand the crimes of Enterprise Corruption, Identity Theft, Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, follow the respective links. There you will find a wealth of information on these crimes including analysis of relevant legal decisions and cases in the news. Additionally, the NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com and NewYorkTheftAndLarcenyLawyersBlog.Com (going “live” in November 2011) has extensive information on these and other crimes.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. One of our criminal defense attorneys, Jeremy Saland, served in the Identity Theft Unit and Major Case section where he investigated and prosecuted multi-million dollar Identity Theft schemes.

WHERE: Queens County WHAT: Identity Theft and Forged Instrument Rings WHO: The arrested, indicted or target defendants are Imran Khan, Travis Lootawan, Jonathan Ortiz, Wilfredo L. Rodriguez, Edward Solomon, James Morgan, Leroy Linton, Ali Khweiss, Myles Beepath, Carlos Plaza, Ali Khweiss, Vishnu S. Harilal, Lilian Mera, Vincent Mineo, Regan Solomon, Jessica Torres, Justin DeJesus, Nicholas Hines, Alvin A. Lootawan, Nelson Feliciano, Mahendra A. Lootawan, Stacy Manbahaul, Steven A. Bahadur, Imran Ibrahim, Susan Persaud, Samantha Ramgulam, Kendall McClean, Devin W. Quinones, Travis Hassang, Anthony Martin, Jacklyn Gunn, Leidy Rodriguez, Christopher Dwhaj, Fnu Gustawian, Benny Ahoo Adhoot, Ali Khweiss, Travis Lootawan, Jonathan Ortiz, Wilfredo Rodriguez, Leroy Linton, Ravindra Singh, Matthew Thompson, Sarah Genere, Leidy Rodriguez, Ziad Mohamed, Danielle Fernandez, Victoria Duran, Kah Sheng Poh, Sanjay Deowsarran, Irina Pervukhina, Svetlana Turakaeva, Romel Mangel, Sayeed Mohammed, Maria Hernandez, Dallas Chester, Julia Fair, Alexey Vaselevith Koltyga, Reginald McMillian, Tina Mahabir, Allen Lam, Amar Singh, Neha Punjabi-Singh, Randolph Ramroop, Terrance Singh, Ravi Ramroop, Pedro Manuel Guzman-Cuevas, Syson Laguerre, Kamal Sanasi, Ahmar Lacorte, Margaret Mortel, Faried Mohamed, Sunil Ramroop, Kamal Sanasie, Michael Doodnarine, Darren Percival, Andre Shewtjon, Ericka Kidd, Sheena Franklyn, Kesho Baboolal, Angelika Wronowska, Derrick Singh, Parisam Itwaru, Tahidul Parvaz, Michael Tumasar,

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