Leader Of Identity Theft Ring Sentenced To Over 7 Years In Prison In “Instant Credit” Fraud Scheme
Used Stolen Personal Identities to Open Instant Credit Accounts at Stores and Buy Merchandise
Baltimore, Maryland – Chief U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Kier Hicks, a/k/a “Mouse,” age 41, of Baltimore, today to 94 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft, arising from a scheme to use personal identity information to open instant credit accounts at retail stores and buy high value merchandise. Chief Judge Blake also entered an order that Hicks pay restitution of $194,674.60.
The sentence 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; Lt. Colonel Anthony C. Satchell, Acting Superintendent of the Maryland State Police; and Chief Gary Gardner of the Howard County Police Department.
According to his plea agreement, from May 8 to August 17, 2012, Hicks obtained compromised identity information from individuals over the internet, and paid for the information by sending money transfers to Eastern European countries. Hicks then obtained credit reports for the identities.
Hicks recruited individuals whom he knew and either took pictures of them or had them provide passport photos. He used these photos to create counterfeit identification documents, usually state driver’s licenses from the state where the individuals resided. These counterfeit licenses contained the personal identity information of the victim, but the pictures of his co-conspirators. In addition, he manufactured a counterfeit credit card bearing the embossed name of the victim.
Hicks provided his workers with the counterfeit driver’s licenses and credit cards, as well as information about the victim. Initially, new recruits “shadowed” an experienced participant for about a week to learn the scheme before they began to conduct transactions themselves. Co-defendants Ashley Avery, Tyrone Gregg, and at least three other individuals worked with Hicks. They used the identity information and counterfeit documents to apply for store “instant credit” accounts. If approved, they immediately purchased items up to the credit limit allowed. Some of the items purchased were given to Hicks, and some were retained by the co-conspirators. Hicks resold the fraudulently purchased items at a discount and gave his co-conspirators a percentage of the money he received.
During the course of the conspiracy, Hicks and his co-conspirators obtained credit in excess of $400,000, using the identity information of more than 50 institutional and individual victims. The Court determined at today’s sentencing that the scheme resulted in an actual loss of $194,674.60.
Hicks also made counterfeit identifications for others engaged in separate fraud schemes, including individuals prosecuted in U.S. v. Bratton-Bey, et al., Case No. 12-CR-04621, with actual losses of over $1.2 million, and U.S. v. Lavon Caldwell, Case Nos. 07-CR-00293 and 13-CR-04180, with actual losses of approximately $50,000.
Tyrone Kevin Gregg, age 45, of Baltimore; and Ashley Nicole Avery, age 28, of Baltimore, previously pleaded guilty to their participation in the scheme. Gregg was sentenced to 54 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $139,990.45. Sentencing is scheduled for Avery on March 11, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.
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 efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 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 the inception of FFETF in November 2009, the Justice Department has filed more than 12,841 financial fraud cases against nearly 18,737 defendants including nearly 3,500 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the U.S. Secret Service, Baltimore and Howard County Police Departments and the Maryland State Police for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamera L. Fine, who prosecuted the case.