Former U.S. Postal Service Employee Pleads Guilty to Using Her Position to Obtain the Personal Information of Victims as Part of a Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud and Wire Fraud
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar sentenced Tariq Hicks, age 48, of Owings Mills, Maryland, today to 65 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft arising from a scheme to use stolen credit information of more than 200 victims to defraud financial institutions. Judge Bredar also ordered Hicks to pay restitution of $61,030.78, and to forfeit the credit and identification card counterfeiting equipment seized during the investigation. In a separate case, Judge Bredar sentenced Hicks to 21 months in prison, for being a felon in possession with a gun, which is to be served concurrent to the sentence for the fraud scheme.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Andre R. Watson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Special Agent in Charge Brian Murphy of the United States Secret Service - Baltimore Field Office; and Chief James W. Johnson of the Baltimore County Police Department.
According to his plea agreement, from at least June 2013, through December 18, 2013, Hicks conspired with Shivani Patel, Eddie Carey, Ishia Cason, and others to defraud financial institutions by accessing stolen credit card and debit card accounts belonging to real people and using counterfeit cards encoded with the stolen account information to make unauthorized purchases.
Hicks purchased the stolen account information over the internet. Hicks and Patel used a computer and a “reader-writer” to encode the stolen credit and debit card information onto existing credit cards, gift cards, or similar cards, which were sold or distributed to co-conspirators, such as Carey and Cason, who used them and provided the bulk of the proceeds to Hicks.
Hicks also purchased or obtained over the internet “credit profiles” containing the identity information of victims, then obtained full credit reports for these victims. Using the information from the credit reports, Hicks sent co-conspirators into stores where the victims had existing credit accounts, with the victim’s personal identity information so that they could “authenticate” themselves as the victim. The co-conspirators, including Patel, Carey and Cason, would then make purchases on the existing accounts (called “account takeover”). Using the victims’ credit information, Hicks also directed the conspirators to apply for new credit accounts at other stores in the victim’s identity, and then use that “instant credit” to make purchases before the victim learned of the account.
For all of these schemes, Hicks obtained fraudulent drivers’ licenses which bore the information of the victim, but the photograph of a co-conspirator. The co-conspirators could then use the counterfeit license to establish their identity as the victim.
Hicks also instructed Patel, Carey and others to travel to other states to engage in the fraud. As they traveled, the conspirators used counterfeit cards in victims’ names to rent hotel rooms and automobiles.
On December 18, 2013, a search warrant was executed at Hicks’ residence, where he lived with Patel and Carey. Located on the dining table in the kitchen area was a complete set up for the fraud scheme, including a computer with the credit profiles and credit reports on it, a reader/writer device, credit cards in various states of manufacture, money gram receipts for payments for the stolen credit card numbers and profiles, and lists of personal identity information. Also recovered were dozens of credit cards bearing victims’ names and accounts, as well as dozens of fraudulent identification to match the credit cards, all bearing the information of the victims but the photographs of co-conspirators. In Hicks’ bedroom was a receipt for a storage unit which was rented in a false identity used by Patel. A search warrant was executed on the storage unit and a duplicate “mill” was located, including an embosser to manufacture embossed credit cards, and boxes containing hundreds of blank plastic cards ready for counterfeiting. There were also over 150 cards in various states of manufacture.
According to his plea agreement in the gun case, during the search law enforcement also recovered a loaded .22 caliber handgun and ammunition from a safe found in Hicks’ bedroom. As the result of a previous felony conviction, Hick was prohibited from possessing a gun or ammunition.
Over 450 compromised accounts were compiled from the evidence seized from the residence and storage locker, although most had not yet been used in the scheme. There were over 200 victims, including businesses and financial institutions which sustained an actual loss and victims who had their identities compromised in the conspiracy. Based on the individual victims and credit accounts which were recovered from the search warrant, actual losses associated with the scheme are $61,030.78.
Shivani Patel, age 30 of Reisterstown, Maryland; Eddie Carey, age 32; and Ishia Biff Cason, age 36, both of Baltimore, pleaded guilty to bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. Judge Bredar scheduled sentencing for Cason on August 5, 2016, at 2:00 p.m., and for Carey and Patel on September 30, 2016, at 2:00 and 3:00 p.m., respectively.
The Maryland Identity Theft Working Group has been working since 2006 to foster cooperation among local, state, federal, and institutional fraud investigators and to promote effective prosecution of identity theft schemes by both state and federal prosecutors. This case, as well as other cases brought by members of the Working Group, demonstrates the commitment of law enforcement agencies to work with financial institutions and businesses to address identity fraud, identify those who compromise personal identity information, and protect citizens from identity theft.
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 HSI Baltimore, the U.S. Secret Service, and Baltimore County Police Department for their work in the investigations. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamera L. Fine, who is prosecuting the case.