Black Market Travel Agents
Three men plead guilty to multi-million-dollar fraud
Conspirators used stolen identities, credit cards
to purchase airline tickets
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that three defendants have pleaded guilty to their roles in a conspiracy among black market travel agents who used the stolen identities of thousands of victims as part of a multi-million dollar fraud scheme to purchase airline tickets for their customers.
Sean Fleming, also known as”David Bravo” or “Pucci,” 29, of Hialeah, Fla., and Kareem Nelson, 31, of Atlanta, Ga., pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy in separate appearances today before U.S. Chief District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan. Alexander Lewis, also known as “Mike Gotti,” 25, of McDonough, Ga., pleaded guilty on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010, to the same conspiracy charge contained in a May 5, 2010, federal indictment.
Fleming participated in the conspiracy as a black market travel agent who booked hundreds of fraudulent airline reservations and compromised more than 1,000 credit/debit cards, causing more than $1 million in losses to his victims. Fleming admitted that he used stolen credit/debit card information to purchase airline reservations for his customers.
Fleming purchased the stolen credit/debit card information of the identity theft victims at a nominal cost, then used the stolen credit/debit card information to purchase the airline tickets. Fleming then sold the airline reservations to his customers and charged far less than the value of legitimately purchased reservations. Fleming generally purchased reservations close to the time of departure so that the airlines, credit card companies, or identity theft victims would be less likely to detect the fraudulent purchases and have the tickets canceled. As a result, the passengers could often complete their trips before the fraud was detected.
Fleming obtained stolen credit/debit card information from a variety of sources, including co-defendants and a source in Dhaka, Bangladesh. To conceal his communication with those sources, Fleming used the identity of an individual named David Bravo, without Bravo’s consent, and used public wireless Internet sources.
Fleming used stolen credit/debit card numbers for cardholders from dozens of states,
including Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Fleming used a credit card verification service to determine whether the stolen credit/debit card information was valid and could be used to purchase airline tickets. Fleming obtained a merchant identification number assigned to a company in White Plains, N.Y., in order to access the credit card verification service.
Nelson’s primary role in the conspiracy was to obtain fraudulently purchased airline tickets for both himself and his customers from Fleming and others, whom Nelson knew had used stolen credit/debit card information. Nelson also used the stolen credit/debit card information himself to purchase airline reservations. Nelson admitted that he flew or arranged more than 15 flights.
Lewis worked at two hotels in the Atlanta area, and abused his position at the hotels to obtain credit/debit card information for Fleming and others. Lewis admitted that he stole 20 to 25 sets of credit/debit cards from one hotel, and one set of credit/debit cards from the other hotel. Lewis sold those cards to Fleming and others, knowing that they would be used to make purchases online without the authorization of the cardholders.
Under federal statutes, Fleming, Nelson and Lewis are each subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of presentence investigations by the United States Probation Office.
These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John E. Cowles and Matt Hiller. They were investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Overland Park, Kan., Police Department, and the Kansas City Secret Service Task Force, and with the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration.