News and Press Releases

black market travel agents

Two illinois men plead guilty to multi-million dollar fraud

conspirators used stolen identities, credit cards
to purchase airline tickets

August 5, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that two Illinois men pleaded guilty in federal court today 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.

Marcus Grisby, 35, of Hoffman Estates, Ill., and Tyrone Ross, 33, of Chicago, Ill., each pleaded guilty in separate appearances before Chief U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr. In addition to the conspiracy, Grisby and Ross each pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft. Ross also pleaded guilty to credit card fraud.

Grisby and Ross are 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. A total of 32 defendants have now pleaded guilty and two defendants have been sentenced.

Grisby and Ross acted as black market travel agents. They 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.

Grisby admitted that he purchased hundreds of sets of stolen credit/debit card information from co-defendant Maurice Beecham, 38, of Chicago. Grisby used the stolen identity information to purchase hundreds of airline reservations. Grisby often received more than $1,000 in cash on a daily or weekly basis.

Beecham, who has also pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy, obtained the stolen identity information from a source or sources in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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.

Black market travel agents generally purchased reservations close to the time of departure, in order to increase the likelihood that the airlines, credit card or debit card companies, or identity theft victims would not detect the fraudulent purchases and have the reservations canceled. As a result, their passengers could often complete their trips before the stolen credit or debit card used to pay for the flight was detected as being compromised.

Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, the government and Grisby agree to request a sentence of seven years in federal prison without parole, which is the statutory maximum sentence for the charges to which he pleaded guilty. Under federal statutes, Ross is subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole for conspiracy and credit card fraud, plus a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years in federal prison without parole for aggravated identity theft. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of presentence investigations 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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