California Couple Sentenced to Federal Prison for Credit Card Fraud and Identity Theft Crimes
ATLANTA - Elton Lee Flenaugh and Deje D. Silas have been sentenced to federal prison for credit card fraud and identity theft crimes.
“Identity theft and credit card fraud exacts both a financial and emotional toll on its victims, harming credit histories, bank accounts, and emotional well-being,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “Undoing the damage can be agonizing for individual victims. Financial institutions spend untold resources investigating, detecting, and deterring such schemes. These defendants callously ignored the consequences of their scheme, and will now serve justly deserved terms in federal prison.”
“This case validates the impact of identity theft on innocent victims and our communities. The United States Secret Service will continue to collaborate with its law enforcement partners and prosecutors to ensure those nefarious individuals that commit these crimes are put behind bars,” said Reginald G. Moore, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Atlanta Field Office.
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: Flenaugh and Silas had a romantic relationship dating back several years. On February 9, 2013, Flenaugh and Silas were scheduled to fly from Atlanta to Los Angeles. During the pre-flight security screening process in Atlanta, alert TSA security officers noticed a suspicious package in Flenaugh’s carry-on bag and, upon further inspection, found nearly 100 fraudulent credit cards secreted inside a double-sealed manila envelope, which had been hidden inside an empty, foil-lined Lay’s potato chip bag. Thirty-three of the cards were embossed in Silas’ name, 28 were embossed in three different aliases used by Flenaugh, and 21 were blank and had not yet been embossed. Subsequent searches by the Atlanta Police Department revealed fraudulent driver’s licenses inside the protective case attached to Silas’ cell phone and underneath the removable insole of one of Flenaugh’s shoes in the carry-on bag.
Additional investigation revealed fraudulent credit cards, licenses, and stolen credit card account and identity information of hundreds of people. These were found in personal items seized from and during searches of Google e-mail accounts controlled by Flenaugh and Silas, an Apple iPad seized from them at the airport, and a 2007 BMW M6 automobile registered to one of Flenaugh’s aliases.
The investigation showed that the scheme began at least by early 2012 and continued until Flenaugh and Silas’ arrests in February 2013. The scheme involved obtaining credit and debit card account information of hundreds of people, which were then used to manufacture fraudulent credit cards. The cards were made to appear as if they had been issued by major financial institutions such as Chase Bank, U.S. Bank, and Capital One. The defendants also obtained personal identifying information—including Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and credit information—of dozens of people, which were used to create fraudulent driver’s licenses to use with the fraudulent credit cards. The fraudulent credit cards were then embossed with the names used on the fraudulent driver’s licenses. The issuing banks and the names embossed on the fraudulent credit cards were merely a front to make them appear legitimate. The magnetic stripes on those cards were encoded with the actual debit and credit card account information of account holders at dozens of financial institutions throughout the country, but primarily at credit unions located in California, Florida, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington.
In at least three instances identified to date, Flenaugh and Silas opened fraudulent credit card accounts in one of the stolen identities and made thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges.
Elton Lee Flenaugh, a/k/a Josh Ford, a/k/a Ali Waheed, 34, of Richmond, Calif., was sentenced today to nine years, three months in federal prison, to be followed by four years of supervised release. Flenaugh was convicted on these charges on December 4, 2013, after he pleaded guilty. At sentencing, the court held Flenaugh responsible for using the credit and debit card account information and identity information of over 100 different victims to make counterfeit credit cards and driver’s licenses, and for losses between $200,000 and $400,000.
In a separate case, Deje D. Silas, 22, of San Francisco, Calif., was sentenced on August 28, 2013 to three years, 5 months in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Silas was convicted on these charges on May 21, 2013, after she pleaded guilty.
This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service. Valuable assistance was provided by the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport division of the Atlanta Police Department, the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Transportation Security Administration, the city of Atlanta Department of Aviation, the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s Office, the San Francisco Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Investigations Division of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Oakland Police Department.
Assistant United States Attorney David M. Chaiken prosecuted the case.
Anyone who believes they may be the victim of identity theft is strongly encouraged to request and review their credit reports from the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies; Equifax, Experion, and Trans Union, to be sure everything on the reports are authorized, and that they request a fraud alert from the companies. It is also suggested that they immediately close any accounts that have been compromised or opened fraudulently. Those who do online banking or manage other accounts online, check these accounts regularly and be sure passwords are strong. To report identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission at: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0277-create-identity-theft-report or the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or TTY 1-866-653-4261.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.