Ringleader Pleads Guilty in Scheme to Use Stolen Credit Card Information Purchased over the Internet

Group Used Over 1,000 Stolen Credit Cards

February 26, 2010

Baltimore, Maryland - Robert Bernard Forrest, age 29, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy 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.

The guilty plea 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; and Chief James W. Johnson of the Baltimore County Police Department.

According to Forrest’s plea agreement and other court documents, from September 25, 2005 through November 12, 2008, Forrest and his co-conspirators Byron A. Green, Michael Hayes, John Forrester and Tomeka V. Harris, defrauded banks and credit card companies using stolen credit card information. Specifically, Forrest purchased over the Internet stolen credit card “track data,” the account information encoded on the magnetic strip on the back of credit cards and gift cards. Forrest then used sophisticated electronic equipment to re-encode the stolen track data onto credit cards and gift card. As he became more proficient, he edited the track data before re-encoding, so that the name stored on the credit card matched the person who was attempting to use the fraudulently re-encoded card. Forrest and his co-conspirators then used the re-encoded cards to purchase merchandise and gift cards, or recruited other individuals, such as John Forrester, to conduct transactions using the fraudulent cards. These individuals, known as “strikers,” would be paid cash or a percentage of the goods the co-conspirators were able to obtain using the fraudulent cards.

As the conspiracy progressed, Forrest assisted Green and Hayes in obtaining the equipment to edit track data and re-encode cards themselves, and eventually provided Green and Hayes information which allowed them to purchase the stolen credit card track data directly from websites on the Internet. Michael Hayes initially provided re-encoded cards to Tomeka Harris, who used the fraudulent cards herself and recruited others, but Harris, too, eventually purchased the equipment to re-encode the stolen credit card information onto credit cards and gift cards herself.

Altogether, the members of the conspiracy transferred and used credit card information relating to over 1,000 stolen credit cards, issued by more the 10 financial institutions. The total loss was between $400,000 and $1 million.

Byron A. Green, age 29; Michael Hayes, age 31; John Forrester, age 29; and Tomeka V. Harris, age 33; all of Baltimore have pleaded guilty to the same charges.

The defendants face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison for the bank fraud conspiracy and a mandatory two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for aggravated identity theft. U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. has scheduled sentencing for Forrest on December 17, 2010 at 11:30 a.m.; Green on May 27, 2010 at 1:00 p.m.; Hayes on May 18, 2010 at 1:00.m.; Forrester on May 7, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.; and Harris on December 17, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein Assistant United States Attorney Tamera L. Fine, who is prosecuting the case.



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