Baltimore, Maryland – Ronnie Mejia, age 26, of Bronx, New York, pleaded guilty today to a bank fraud conspiracy and to aggravated identity theft in connection to a credit card fraud scheme.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Brian Murphy of the United States Secret Service - Baltimore Field Office; Chief James W. Johnson of the Baltimore County Police Department; and Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger.
According to his plea, from February 2014, through October 2014, Mejia conspired with his co-defendants, Steven Harris, Marquis Johnson, Zachary O’Brien, Steven Tejeda and Jerry Anderson, as well as others, to use stolen credit card and other personal information of customers of victim financial institutions to purchase items, including Apple iPhones, at retail locations in Maryland and elsewhere.
For example, on April 10, 2014, the Baltimore County Police Department (BCPD) responded to a fraud in progress at an Apple Store in Towson, Maryland, where Johnson and Harris purchased iPhones with Visa Vanilla gift cards. Johnson and Harris were arrested and the Visa Vanilla gift cards they used to purchase the phones were recovered and determined to be re-encoded with stolen credit information.
On April 17, 2014, a search warrant was executed at Anderson’s home in Towson. Several items were recovered including: five Blackberry cell phones; two Apple iPhones; two apple iPads; an Apple computer; a shipping box and packaging for a credit card embossing machine; and miscellaneous gift cards. Anderson was at the residence at the time the search warrant was executed and a room keycard for a nearby hotel was recovered from his wallet. Later that day, a search warrant was executed at the hotel room. Tejeda and O’Brien were in the room when the search warrant was executed. The items recovered from the hotel room included: 30 counterfeit credit cards (re-encoded with stolen credit information); three Apple iPhone 5s; 43 blank counterfeit credit cards; eight pre-paid gift cards (unopened/in packaging); a credit card embossing machine; an Acer laptop computer; a credit card encoder; and over 50 credit cards embossed with the names of either Anderson, Tejeda or O’Brien.
Forensic examinations of the computers and other digital media seized during the searches recovered emails containing personal identifying information (PII) of victims, including name, date of birth, and social security number; compromised bank credit card numbers and corresponding customers’ names; and a document containing over 25 credit card numbers and other PII. Further examination of records recovered during forensic examinations revealed that at least two of the credit card numbers were purchased from a known “carding site” where perpetrators of identity theft and related crimes can purchase stolen credit card numbers and other PII. A forensic examination of Tejeda’s phone recovered during the search of the hotel room, revealed texts between Mejia and Tejeda that contained exchanges of stolen personal information of victims and instructions for fraudulent transactions and purchases.
On April 10, 2015, at the direction of the United States Secret Service (Secret Service), a cooperating witness made three consensually monitored phone calls to Mejia. Mejia wanted the cooperating witness to use stolen PII to fraudulently purchase Apple iPhones and asked for an email account so Mejia could send the cooperating witness the stolen PII. The cooperating witness provided Mejia with an email address and password, which had been set up by Secret Service. On April 13, 2015, a Secret Service agent observed that PII, including PII belonging to 16 known victims, had been put in the “drafts” folder of the provided email account. On May 19, 2015, during recorded calls between Mejia and the cooperating witness, Mejia agreed to buy the fraudulently purchased iPhones from the cooperating witness, and asked the cooperating witness to provide him with a credit card in order to pay the first phone bills from the phones. Historical cell site records show that Mejia was in New York during these phone calls.
The total actual loss caused by the conspiracy to the more than 2450 victims was $419,807.14 and the potential loss caused by the conspiracy to the victims was $1,830,030.
Mejia faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison for bank fraud and a mandatory two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for aggravated identity theft. Steven Harris, age 23, of Bronx, New York; Marquis Johnson, age 21, of Severna Park, Maryland; Zachary O’Brien, age 31, of Bronx, New York; and Jerry Anderson, age 29, of Towson, have also pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme. All are awaiting sentencing.
Steven Tejeda, age 23, of Richmond, Virginia, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Today’s announcement is part of the efforts undertaken in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants. For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the U.S. Secret Service, Baltimore County Police Department, and Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ayn B. Ducao and Zachary A. Myers, who are prosecuting the case.