News and Press Releases

black market travel agents

Jury convicts california woman of multi-million dollar fraud

Conspirators used stolen identities, credit cards
to purchase airline tickets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 10, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a North Hollywood, Calif., woman was convicted by a federal jury today of her role as a customer 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.

Monique Calhoun, 24, of North Hollywood, was found guilty of conspiracy and of making false statements to a federal agent.

Calhoun is among 38 defendants from across the United States who were charged in a series of six separate, but related, indictments. These separate criminal conspiracies resulted in an estimated total loss of more than $20 million to numerous domestic airline companies, financial institutions, other merchants and individual credit and debit cardholders. In addition to Calhoun, a total of 33 defendants have pleaded guilty and two of those defendants have been sentenced.

Following the presentation of evidence, the jury in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City deliberated for about two hours before returning the guilty verdicts to Chief U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr., ending a trial that began Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011.

Calhoun purchased airline reservations from co-defendant Edwon Simmons, 35, of Chicago, Ill. Simmons, who has pleaded guilty, acted as black market travel agent. He and other black market travel agents used stolen identity information, including stolen credit/debit cards from hundreds of victims in dozens of states, to purchase airline reservations for their customers totaling millions of dollars.

Black market travel agents profited from the scheme by purchasing the stolen credit/debit card information of the identity theft victims at a nominal cost, then using the stolen information to purchase the reservations online at airline Web sites. Black market travel agents then sold the confirmation codes of the airline reservations to their customers.

Calhoun and Simmons worked together to develop a false story to tell federal agents in order to conceal the existence of the criminal conspiracy. Calhoun lied to a postal inspector during an interview on Aug. 23, 2009. Calhoun acknowledged that she had traveled on three flights – from New York to Denver, from Chicago to New York and from Los Angeles to Chicago – but said she bought the tickets from someone on Craig’s List.

Under federal statutes, Calhoun is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $500,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Cowles. It was 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.

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