News and Press Releases

black market travel agents

California man sentenced for multi-million dollar fraud

conspirators used stolen identities, credit cards
to purchase airline tickets

May 4, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - David M. Ketchmark, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Richmond, Calif., man was sentenced in federal court today for his role 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.

Waiki Pryor, 31, of Richmond, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr., to seven years in federal prison without parole, which is the statutory maximum sentence for the conspiracy and aggravated identity theft charges.

Pryor, who pleaded guilty on July 7, 2011, 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.

Pryor admitted that he acted as a black market travel agent. He used stolen identity information, including stolen credit/debit cards from hundreds of victims in dozens of states, to purchase airline reservations for his customers that totaled between $1 million and $2.5 million. Pryor and other black market travel agents worked together to further the scheme. They shared stolen credit/debit card information, and would ask each other for assistance in purchasing fraudulent reservations for their customers.

Pryor admitted that he was the leader of the conspiracy that operated in the Oakland, Calif., area. Pryor used more than 2,000 sets of stolen credit/debit cards to purchase thousands of airline reservations. Pryor became a prolific black market travel agent because of his passenger network, his large supply of stolen credit/debit card information, and his discount prices for airline reservations.

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. Pryor was often referred to as the A50 Dollar Man@ or A75 Dollar Man@ because he charged $50 or $75 per reservation during his time as a black market travel agent.

Pryor obtained stolen credit and debit card information from a number of sources, including co-defendant Delano Rutty, 28, of Palm Beach, Fla. Rutty obtained stolen credit card numbers from co-defendant Crystal Green, 24, of Miramar, Fla., who had access to the information as an employee of a contracting firm for American Express. Both Rutty and Green have pleaded guilty and been sentenced for their roles in the conspiracy.

The success of Pryor=s scheme was in large part based on the effectiveness of his referral sources. Co-defendants Norman Johnson, 36, of Inglewood, Calif., and Abdullah Gardner, 27, of Inglewood, Calif., were among those who referred passengers seeking discount airline reservations to Pryor. Johnson and Gardner have also pleaded guilty and been sentenced for their roles in the conspiracy.

Pryor 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, passengers could often complete their respective trips before the stolen credit or debit card used to pay for the flight was detected as being compromised.

This case was 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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