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Jan. 31, 2012

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Houston Man Convicted of Identity Theft
Following a day of trial testimony, changes plea to guilty

HOUSTON – Joseph Russell, 30, has entered a plea of guilty to one count of access device fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Russell’s trial had begun yesterday, but upon hearing a portion of the government’s evidence, he opted to plead guilty before U.S. District Judge Gray Miller this morning.

The investigation had begun when the U.S. Secret Service received a complaint regarding fraudulent credit card charges that took place in Houston. Agents were able to obtain surveillance videos of Russell using gift cards re-encoded with victims’ credit card numbers throughout the Houston Area. Russell was subsequently arrested and his vehicle and hotel room were searched, at which time he was found to be in possession of gift cards re-encoded with the debit/credit card information of 18 different individuals from throughout the United States.

Evidence presented during the trial yesterday included video footage from various Wal-Mart locations depicting Russell using debit/credit card information without the cardholder’s permission. Several victims also took the stand and testified they did not know Russell and had not given him permission to possess their debit/credit card information.

Russell remains in custody pending his sentencing hearing set for April 27, 2012, at which time he faces a maximum punishment of up to 0 years in prison for access device fraud in addition to two years for each count of aggravated identity theft for a maximum possible punishment of 14 years to be followed by up to three years of supervised release as well as a fine not to exceed $250,000.

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the United States Secret Service. Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew Leuchtmann and Jay Hileman prosecuted the case.