Fourth Defendant Sentenced in Scheme to Use Stolen Credit Card Information Purchased over the Internet

Group Used Over 1,000 Stolen Credit Cards Resulting in Over $500,000 in Losses;
Defendant Also Sentenced for Conspiring with a Black Guerrilla Family Leader
to Smuggle Drugs Into Prison

December 17, 2010

Baltimore, Maryland - U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. sentenced Tomeka V. Harris, age 34, of Baltimore, Maryland, today to four years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for conspiring with the leader of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) in Maryland to distribute heroin; and in a separate criminal case, for conspiring to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud banks and credit card companies using stolen credit card information. Judge Quarles also ordered Harris to pay $521,312.67 in restitution.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Barbara Golden of the United States Secret Service – Baltimore Field Office; Chief James W. Johnson of the Baltimore County Police Department; Special Agent in Charge Ava Cooper-Davis of the Drug Enforcement Administration - Washington Field Division; Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III; Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy; and Secretary Gary D. Maynard and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

According to Harris’ plea agreement in the drug case, from 2008 to April 2009, Harris conspired with an individual, whom she knew was the leader of Maryland’s BGF, to distribute approximately an ounce of heroin. Harris was aware that the BGF is a violent, nation-wide gang that has established a powerful presence within the Maryland Correctional System and on the streets of Baltimore City. Law enforcement officers monitoring the gang leader’s and others’ cell phones intercepted discussions implicating Harris in the smuggling of contraband into Maryland prisons. This contraband, in turn, facilitated the distribution of drugs inside the Maryland Correctional System by the gang leader and other conspirators.

According to Harris’ plea agreement in the identity theft scheme, from September 2005 through November 2008, Harris and her co-conspirators defrauded banks and credit card companies using stolen credit card information. Harris worked primarily with co-defendant Michael Hayes and other co-conspirators she recruited to work for her. Initially, Hayes provided Harris with bogus credit cards and gift cards in which the magnetic strip on the back of the card had been re-encoded with data from stolen credit card account numbers without the knowledge of the real account holders. Hayes and others purchased these numbers using the internet. Harris used these gift cards and credit cards to buy merchandise and other gift cards which could be used or sold.

Eventually, Harris sold re-encoded cards to others, or caused individuals known as “strikers” to use the fraudulent credit cards at retail stores to buy other gift cards. These individuals were paid cash or a percentage of the goods the co-conspirators were able to obtain by using the cards.

As the conspiracy continued, Harris obtained the equipment to re-encode the stolen credit card numbers onto credit cards and gift cards herself, using stolen credit card numbers provided by Hayes and others. Harris changed the credit cards so that the name shown for the credit account would match the name of the person using the fraudulent card.

Altogether, Harris and her co-conspirators used credit card information relating to over 1,000 stolen credit cards, issued by more the 10 financial institutions. The total loss was more than $500,000.

Five Baltimore defendants have pleaded guilty to the same charges in connection with the identity theft scheme. Four defendants have been sentenced, including Michael Hayes, age 31, who was sentenced to 144 months in prison on June 22, 2010 after admitting to additional offenses of breaking his electronic monitoring, fleeing the jurisdiction and committing a new fraud offense while under pre-trial supervision. The remaining defendant, ringleader Robert Bernard Forrest, age 39, of Baltimore, is scheduled to be sentenced on February 15, 2011.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the secret Service and the Baltimore County Police Department for their investigative work, and thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Tamera L. Fine and James T. Wallner, who prosecuted the cases.

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