News and Press Releases

black market travel agents

Four illinois men sentenced in mulit-million dollar fraud

conspirators used stolen identities, credit cards
to purchase airline tickets

February , 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that four Illinois men have been sentenced in federal court for 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.

Tyrone Ross, 34, and Benjamin Everett, 32, both of Chicago, Ill., and Marcus Grisby, 36, of Hoffman Estates, Ill., were each sentenced in separate appearances today before Chief U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr. to seven years in federal prison without parole. Co-defendant Edwon Simmons, 36, of Chicago, was sentenced on March 12, 2012, to five years in federal prison without parole and ordered to pay a $3,000 fine.

In addition to the conspiracy, Ross, Everett, Grisby, and Simmons each pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft. Ross also pleaded guilty to credit card fraud and Simmons also pleaded guilty to making false statements.

They 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.

Ross, Everett, Grisby and Simmons worked together as black market travel agents and maintained a full-time agency capable of selling dozens of airline tickets every day to customers throughout the United States. They used stolen identity information, including stolen credit/debit cards from thousands of victims in dozens of states, to purchase airline reservations for thousands of customers totaling more than $1 million. They also flew themselves on the fraudulently booked airline tickets, including a trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii in 2009. Simmons used his connections with professional athletes (Simmons’ brother plays for the Philadelphia Eagles and Simmons himself played minor league baseball) to book tickets for players and coaches on several NFL and college teams, as well as NBA players from Chicago, Dallas and Boston.

These black market ticket agents purchased more than 2,000 sets of stolen credit/debit card information from co-defendant Maurice Beecham, 39, of Chicago. Beecham, who has also pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and awaits sentencing, 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.

Black market ticket agents often fraudulently booked tickets to amusement parks and other forms of entertainment. For example, Ross purchased 40 tickets to Six Flags Great America for an entire graduating class.

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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