News and Press Releases

Group Used Info from Starbucks Human Resources Employee to Raid Bank Accounts

June 2, 2006

THANG VAN NGUYEN, 32, of Garden Grove, California, was sentenced today to 54 months in prison, three years of supervised release and more than $185,000 in restitution for Bank Fraud. NGUYEN was part of a ring operating in Southern California that committed more than $1.6 million in bank fraud using the stolen identities and bank account numbers of 90 different individuals, many of whom were Starbucks employees. At sentencing, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik told NGUYEN, “identity theft can create huge emotional problems for people. We often think of bank fraud as just against a bank or just money, but it damages real people.”

According to court records, NGUYEN was one of the “drivers” for the fraud group, driving others using false ID to banks around the country so they could cash phoney checks. Essentially the scheme worked like this: Using the personal information stolen by the Starbucks human resources employee, and from other sources, the ringleader would obtain fake IDs and create phoney checks. The imposters would cash or deposit the phoney checks into the accounts and then withdraw the funds, essentially raiding the accounts. NGUYEN would drive the imposters to the banks and then collect a cut of the ill-gotten funds for himself and for the group leader Lam T. Pham. Pham has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced July 27, 2006. The Starbucks employee has been fired. She pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing June 30, 2006.

In one victim statement to the court, a Starbucks employee recounted how he was working overseas when he learned his accounts had been raided. He and his wife had to rely on their friends for financial support until the mess could be straightened out at the bank. Even then it took months of work to repair their credit history and reverse the charges on legitimate checks that had bounced. The entire episode caused a great deal of stress and anxiety. Chief Judge Lasnik noted that the damage of identity theft isn’t just financial, “it causes rifts between husbands and wives, it causes divorces.”

In asking for the significant sentence Assistant United States Attorney Patricia Lally pointed out the damage of identity theft and the fact that NGUYEN repeatedly made false statements to investigators apparently in an attempt to assist co-defendant Pham. Judge Lasnik told him “it is time to stop covering up for each other.”

The case was investigated by the FBI and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Patricia Lally.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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