News and Press Releases

two sentenced in credit card fraud ring

July 3, 2012

NEW BERN - United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker announced that in federal court today United States District Judge Louise W. Flanagan sentenced two defendants for credit card fraud and identity theft.  MICHELLE BENAVIDEZ, 26, of Houston, Texas received 30 months imprisonment followed by 3 years supervised release and STEPHANY ABELLO, 24, of Houston, Texas, received 27 months imprisonment followed by 3 supervised release. 

A Criminal Information was filed on October 25, 2011, charging each defendant with possessing device making equipment, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1029(a)(4), and aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A(a)(1). On December 13, 2011, each defendant pled guilty to the charges.

According to the investigation, on March 22, 2011, investigators with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office utilized a canine unit to conduct a routine parcel interdiction at UPS in Raleigh. When the canine alerted to a suspicious package, a search warrant was obtained and the package was found to contain marijuana and a white substance which field tested positive for the presence of controlled substances.

The same day, the package was delivered to the address listed on the package. Soon after delivery, law enforcement executed a search warrant at the address.  Upon entry, four subjects were located and seized: BENAVIDEZ, ABELLO, Nelson Alvarez-Vasquez, and Julio Vidal. In the kitchen, investigators found a credit card embossing machine, 2 Ipad computers, cameras, gift cards, and unembossed credit cards of various Visa makes. In bedrooms, investigators located a credit card reader/writer, multiple laptop computers, cell phones, multiple embossed and encoded credit cards, blank stock credit cards, and $3,338 in U.S. currency. Lastly, investigators recovered hundreds of RedBox DVD’s, many of them duplicates. Criminals engaged in credit card fraud commonly test their fraudulent credit cards on RedBox dispensers before using the cards to make larger purchases at retail stores.  All four subjects were arrested.

The United States Secret Service examined the credit cards and conducted a forensic analysis on the computers and electronic devices seized from the residence.  The cards, computers, and electronic devices were found to contain over 200 stolen credit card account numbers.

The investigation revealed that ABELLO and BENAVIDEZ were part of a credit card fraud ring based in Houston, Texas. The group purchased stolen credit card account numbers from various sources and, using their own device-making equipment, manufactured fraudulent credit cards.  Using these credit cards, they purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, often gift cards, which they subsequently sold for profit. Between August 2010 and March 2011, the group traveled to various locations throughout the United States to engage in credit card fraud.

Also included in the Information was a Forfeiture Notice requiring that items obtained directly or indirectly from proceeds from the offenses, which include money, computers and computer equipment, cell and I-phones, cameras, and a DVD player, be forfeited.  

Alvarez-Vasquez will be sentenced on July 9, 2012.  Vidal is scheduled to be sentenced on September 4, 2012.

Investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Secret Service and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.  Assistant United States Attorney Toby Lathan prosecuted the case.



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