Brazilian Citizens Sentenced to More Than Three Years in Federal Prison for Using Counterfeit Credit Cards to Purchase Over $52,000 in Merchandise and for Aggravated Identity Theft
Baltimore, Maryland –U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced two Brazilian citizens residing in Florida to 40 months each in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, on wire fraud charges in connection with a scheme to use counterfeit debit and credit cards to purchase merchandise at various retail stores in Maryland and other states. Lucas Pimenta Diogo Das Gracas, age 23, was sentenced on April 11, 2019, and his co-conspirator, Diogo Miranda Araujo, age 23, was sentenced on April 1, 2019. Judge Bennett ordered the defendants to pay restitution totaling $41,116. Das Gracas was ordered to pay $34,540 and Araujo was ordered to pay $6,576.
The defendants previously pleaded guilty to the wire fraud conspiracy. Araujo also pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft for his role in the scheme in Maryland. Das Gracas also pleaded guilty to possession of counterfeit access devices and aggravated identity theft in connection with a separate case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The sentences were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Special Agent in Charge Sung Yi of the U.S. Secret Service, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Raimund Seifart of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service – Washington Field Office; Colonel Lance Royce of the Naval Support Activity Police Department; and Colonel Woodrow Jones, Chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
According to Araujo’s plea agreement, in November 2017, while he was on pretrial release for related Illinois state charges, Araujo traveled from Florida to Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, where he used large number of cloned payment cards as well as fake Brazilian identification cards in fraudulent retail transactions in Maryland and the surrounding area. On November 19, Araujo was arrested by a Maryland Transportation Authority Police (“MTAP”) officer who conducted a traffic stop of Araujo’s vehicle and learned that Araujo was driving on a suspended license. A search of the vehicle resulted in the seizure of approximately 164 counterfeit payment cards, four fake Brazilian identification cards displaying the same photo of Araujo but listing four different names, multiple receipts, and several recently purchased items of merchandise, including two laptop computers, six GPS devices, and sports equipment. Merchandise recovered from the vehicle had an approximate total value of $4,355. Most of the counterfeit payment cards displayed names listed among Araujo’s four fake identification cards and were encoded with compromised foreign credit and debit card accounts.
Also in November 2017, Das Gracas, co-conspirator Victor Andrade Carneiro Brito, and another co-conspirator possessed at least 189 counterfeit payments cards, which they used, along with false identification documents, to rent a vehicle and make fraudulent retail purchases in Maryland and surrounding states. Das Gracas and Brito were arrested in Maryland on November 29, 2017, after they and another co-conspirator made numerous purchases of computers and other merchandise using the counterfeit payment cards. Law enforcement stopped the vehicle that Das Gracas was driving. As Das Gracas got out of the vehicle, law enforcement officers observed numerous credit cards inside an open white box on the center console of the vehicle. All 166 cards found in the vehicle were scanned and found to be counterfeit. Most of the cards were encoded with foreign credit and debit card accounts.
Araujo further admitted that from May through July 2017, he traveled from Florida to Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois making fraudulent purchases at retailers using counterfeit payment cards. Specifically, co-conspirators in Florida sent Araujo cloned payment cards, which Araujo would pick up at commercial mail service locations and use at retailers in the area. On July 29, 2017, after making a number of fraudulent purchases at an Illinois department store, Araujo was arrested. Illinois law enforcement recovered approximately 197 cloned payment cards and approximately 157 items of merchandise, including cellular phones, small electronics, and other items valued at approximately $48,089. A search of the laptop computer found in Araujo’s luggage revealed an open document listing approximately 432 credit and debit card account numbers with associated data, and an open American Express webpage. Most of the listed credit and debit card accounts were held by financial institutions located in various foreign countries.
In connection with the Mississippi case, Das Gracas further admitted that between October 4 and October 14, 2017, Das Gracas and other co-conspirators possessed and installed “shimmer” devices on automated teller machines at financial institutions in Gulfport, Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Long Beach and D’Iberville, Mississippi. A shimmer device is equipment designed and used to record data surreptitiously from the chip of a credit, debit, or bank card. On October 18, Das Gracas and other conspirators traveled to ATMs in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to conduct fraudulent cash withdrawals, using the account numbers and personal identification numbers obtained through the use of the previously installed shimmer devices. A total of approximately 82 payment cards were compromised and information associated with 35 of those cards was subsequently used, resulting in losses of approximately $19,235, as well as an additional $11,358 in losses to the financial institutions to repair and replace ATM card readers damaged by Das Gracas and co-conspirators when installing shimmer devices.
Victor Andrade Carneiro Brito pleaded guilty to possession and use of counterfeit access devices and aggravated identity theft in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and was sentenced to two years in federal prison.
United States Attorney Robert K. Hur commended the U.S. Secret Service Baltimore and Chicago Field Offices, the NCIS, Navy Police, Maryland Transportation Authority Police, and the St. Charles, Illinois Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Maddox, who prosecuted the case.
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