Department of Justice seal U.S. Department of Justice

Debra Wong Yang
United States Attorney
Central District of California


United States Courthouse
312 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, California 90012
Release No. 06-133

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 6, 2006
For Information, Contact Public Affairs
Thom Mrozek (213) 894-6947

ORANGE COUNTY IDENTITY THEFT TASK FORCE CRACKS CRIMINAL OPERATIONS THAT CAUSED MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN LOSSES TO LENDERS

Nearly Four Dozen Charged with Fraudulently Obtaining Credit, Skimming Credit Cards, and Negotiating Stolen Checks and Credit Cards


Los Angeles, CA - Formed to combat a pressing white-collar crime problem, the Orange County Identity Theft Task Force has charged nearly four dozen identity thieves who targeted the mails, banks, mortgage companies, stores and other sources to steal checks, credit cards and information that were used to cause millions of dollars in losses.

Identity theft, which may be the fastest-growing form of white-collar crime in America, is a priority area for the Department of Justice. To combat this serious crime problem in Orange County, the United States Attorney's Office formed the Orange County Identity Theft Task Force, which includes agents and investigators from the United States Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Social Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Trade Commission, IRS Criminal Investigation Division and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Task Force facilitates the sharing of information among member agencies and has allowed authorities to implement a coordinated strategy to target identity thieves. The cases being announced today are the results of this strategy and are being prosecuted by lawyers with the United States Attorney's Office in Santa Ana.

One of the Task Force's investigations, dubbed Operation Paper or Plastic, resulted in 20 defendants being indicted on August 30 by a federal grand jury for allegedly causing more than $1 million in losses over four years. Operation Paper or Plastic focused on members of a widespread identity theft ring who purchased tax refund checks and credit cards that had been stolen from the mails. The identity theft ring, which allegedly was run by a Las Vegas, Nevada man named Ky Vu, manufactured counterfeit identification cards, which allowed members of the ring to cash the stolen tax refund checks and to use the stolen credit cards for merchandise and cash advances at casinos.

"Identity theft is a pervasive and, unfortunately, a growing problem," said United States Attorney Debra Wong Yang. "With a recent Justice Department study showing that 3 percent of Americans were victimized during a six-month period, aggressive action is needed now. With one of the first educational programs to prevent identity theft, with a history of targeting identity thieves and now with the success of the Orange County Identity Theft Task Force, my office has energetically worked to combat identity theft on several fronts."

William P. Atkins, Inspector in Charge of the Los Angeles Division of the Postal Inspection Service, said: "We cannot afford to underestimate the financial devastation caused by identity theft. Individual victims, as well as our nation's economy, suffer from this devastating crime. In many cases, identity thieves misuse our nation's mail system in the furtherance of their criminal activity. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting our nation's mail system, and our nation's economy."

Debra King, Special Agent In Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation Division, Los Angeles Field Office, stated: "The innocent victims of identity theft suffer financially for years after the crime has occurred. In conjunction with our law enforcement partners, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agents will aggressively investigate the financial aspects of these crimes. They will ‘follow the money' to develop the evidence necessary to successfully prosecute identity thieves for income tax, money laundering and related financial crimes."

James J. Kollar, Resident Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service's Resident Office in Santa Ana, commented: "The Secret Service is focused on the changing face of identity fraud. Our office has seen the cases evolve from simple identity-theft cases to large scale identity-theft rings where bank employees, civil servants and mortgage brokers – people who are instilled with trust – victimize their customers. The Secret Service is dedicated to prosecuting such individuals to the full extent of the law."

In addition to Operation Paper or Plastic, the Task Force has conducted a series of investigations that have resulted in another 13 cases.

The Task Force dismantled a credit card "skimming" ring in an investigation called Operation French Fry. On Wednesday, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment that added another defendant to a case that was initially brought in June (see: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/cac/news/pr2006/078.html). In this case, waiters at various restaurants are charged with skimming – or collecting encoded information – from customers' Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo Bank ATM cards. Other defendants are charged with restriping their own ATM cards with the stolen information and obtaining new PIN numbers that allowed them to access the bank accounts. More than 150 accounts were compromised by the ring, which caused losses of more than $1 million.

In another skimming case, a grand jury on August 30 indicted Floyd Douglas Harris on charges of fraudulent use of a credit card. Harris, a 34-year-old man whose last known address was Long Beach, is a fugitive accused of skimming patrons' credit cards at an Applebee's restaurant in Fountain Valley in 2003. Harris is believed to have skimmed at least 300 credit cards issued by Citicorp and American Express, with the stolen credit information being fraudulently used throughout the United States. Losses in this case are estimated to be $18,000.

In January, the United States Secret Service was contacted by Target fraud investigators, who had identified a man who was using counterfeit driver's licenses and stolen social security numbers to fraudulently obtain Target credit accounts. Tuan Le, a 32-year-old Huntington Beach resident who worked at Washington Mutual Bank, was indicted on identity theft charges in May. Tuan, who was arrested in July and is being held without bond, is scheduled to go on trial on November 14.

Khalid Ghazi Alzureiqi, 42, of Santa Ana, bilked more than $700,000 from credit card companies through the use of stolen Social Security numbers and fictitious names. On September 5, Alzureiqi pleaded guilty to three counts of access device fraud and one count of identity theft. Alzureiqi used stolen Social Security numbers to open more than 70 credit accounts, mostly under false names, and then used the credit cards to take cash advances and transfer funds among other credit cards and bank accounts. Alzureiqi is scheduled to be sentenced on December 11, at which time he faces a maximum possible sentence of 35 years in federal prison.

Sean Christopher Pierce, 24, of Anaheim, was indicted Wednesday on charges of possessing device-making equipment, namely a credit card encoder. During the execution of a search warrant at Pierce's apartment last year, Secret Service agents recovered computer equipment, a credit card encoder, memory storage devices and 48 white plastic cards with magnetic strips. Stolen credit card numbers were found on the computer equipment and 22 of the plastic cards. Credit card issuers have reported a combined loss of more than $100,000 from access devices in Pierce's possession.

A Huntington Beach man who used advertisements in the Wall Street Journal to locate businesses for sale allegedly used information from the businesses, as well as personal information belonging to the owners, to defraud banks and other lenders out of more than $1.5 million. Eric Smole, 40, is charged in a 10-count indictment with masquerading as a customer looking to buy business names for the purpose of obtaining financial and tax information. Smole assumed the business names, and he used the information he obtained to open sham offices, secure lines of credit in the business names, and illegally obtain merchandise and cash. Smole, who was freed on a $700,000 bond after being arrested in May, faces charges of wire fraud, possessing counterfeit credit cards and aggravated identity theft. He is scheduled to go on trial on February 13.

Robert Noyola, 21, of Fontana, who worked at two mortgage brokerages in Costa Mesa, held himself out as a loan consultant for the purpose of obtaining information from prospective borrowers that he used to fraudulently obtain loans for friends of his family. Noyola was indicted on September 27 on one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.

Six indictments were returned on Wednesday as part of Operation Broken Trust, an investigation by the United States Secret Service into identity theft in the mortgage industry. The investigation focused on a ring that assumed victims' identities by accessing their credit reports. Armed with the new identities, the defendants manipulated credit reports to obtain money, to refinance homes, and to purchase high-end merchandise and drugs. The defendants named in these cases are expected to be arraigned in United States District Court on Tuesday.

Mortgage broker John James Sena, 38, of Huntington Beach, a mortgage broker, was charged with selling credit profiles and account information belonging to people who had applied for mortgages. Sena faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for offering to sell a credit card account number, plus a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years on the second count of aggravated identity theft.

Mortgage broker Victoria Theresa Crouse, 44, of Santa Ana, was charged with selling credit profiles containing the identities of other people and account information regarding the victims' financial accounts. Crouse faces a maximum sentence of 10 years, plus a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years for the charge of aggravated identity theft.

Mortgage broker Manuel Jermiah Clark, 32, of Irvine, was named in a four-count indictment that alleges he sold credit card account information and the identities of other people. Clark faces a maximum possible sentence of 30 years in federal prison, plus a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years for aggravated identity theft.

Thomas Patrick Hyde, 40, of Huntington Beach, and Kara Lee Jensen, 25, of Brea, were charged in a two-count indictment with selling stolen loan dossiers and credit reports of hundreds of people. The documents were stolen from an Orange County mortgage brokerage firm and contain information regarding the victims' identities and bank accounts. Hyde and Jensen were arrested on Wednesday. At that time, they were using the stolen information on the Internet. The defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in federal prison on the first count of the indictment, plus a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years on the second count of aggravated identity theft.

Neil Sudario Reyes, 24, of Anaheim; Timothy Thomas Hyde (the son of Thomas Patrick Hyde), 20, of Anaheim; and Caitlin Renee Murashie, 19, of Yorba Linda, were charged with possessing and using the names, credit profiles and account information of unsuspecting people. These defendants were arrested at an Anaheim motel in August 2006 while using the stolen account information on the Internet. Reyes, Timothy and Murashie each face a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, plus a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years for aggravated identity theft.

Douglas Scott Frey, 36, of Irvine, was charged with possessing unauthorized access devices (credit card numbers) and device-making equipment. Frey obtained the unauthorized access devices from mortgage brokers and hotels throughout Orange County. Frey could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison if he is convicted.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. A defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

While authorities will investigate and prosecute identity thieves to the full extent of their resources, consumers should take steps to educate themselves about the problem and learn how to avoid being a victim. The United States Attorney's Office website (http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/cac/HowCanWeHelp/idtheft/index.html) has information on protecting yourself, including a video called "Stop Identity Theft Now!" Additional information is available from various government websites, including one operated by the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/), where consumers can file complaints if they become victims.

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Release No. 06-133

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