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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Georgia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Defendants In ATM Skimming Ring With Over 5,000 Victims Sentenced To Federal Prison

ATLANTA – Michael J. Ellis has been sentenced for stealing the bank debit card numbers and passwords of individuals in Georgia and Florida through an ATM skimming device.

“This sentencing marks the end of an ATM skimming ring that victimized over 5,000 people in Georgia and Florida,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.  “Identity theft is a growing problem that damages the good names and credit of too many innocent people, and we remain committed to combatting this insidious crime in all of its various forms.”

“The Secret Service, in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, will continue to arrest those that commit crimes that prey on unsuspecting victims,” said Reginald G. Moore, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Atlanta Field Office.  “Today’s sentence should serve as a reminder that criminals will not get away with defrauding victims and ignoring the consequences of their actions.”

According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court:  Ellis, working with co-defendants Zira M. Bailey and Bryan S. Kees, used illegal skimming devices to steal over $130,000 from bank customers by installing the devices at SunTrust automated teller machines (ATM’s) in Georgia and Florida.  When a customer used the ATM with a skimming device installed, the device electronically recorded the customer’s debit card number and a small camera in the device video recorded the ATM keyboard as the customer entered his or her password.

The defendants then downloaded the information from the device to a computer.  Using a magnetic stripe card reader/writer, they re-encoded gift cards with the stolen account information.  They then used the altered gift cards at ATMs to drain money from the victims’ bank accounts.  Over 500 victims were linked to Bailey, Ellis, and Kees from the SunTrust ATMs. 

On December 28, 2012, Bulgarian Customs officials notified the United States Secret Service in Atlanta that a DHL parcel containing illegal skimming devices was being shipped to the United States.  The Secret Service obtained a federal search warrant for the package and found three skimming devices.  The package was addressed to a UPS Store in Atlanta, Ga.  Ellis, Bailey, and another co-conspirator, WB Wohrman, were listed as authorized recipients of mail to the UPS box.  In a later search of a garage controlled by Ellis, law enforcement found 250 financial transaction cards, magnetic reader/writers, false ATM overlays, laptops with ATM videos and debit card information, and a wig. 

Ellis, 36, of Decatur, Ga., was sentenced by United States District Judge Orinda D. Evans to eight years and five months in federal prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $136,374.31 in restitution. 

Judge Evans previously sentenced Kees, 37, of Savannah, Ga., to seven years in federal prison, and Bailey, 27, of Picayune, Miss., to five years and five months in federal prison.  Kees and Bailey were also sentenced to three years each of supervised release and $136,374.31 in restitution.  All three defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

In a related case, Plamen Atanasov, Stoyno Filtshev, Tsvetil Iliev, Nedyalko Palazov, and WB Wohrman were charged with using ATM skimming devices at Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo ATMs in the metro Atlanta area.  These defendants stole over $380,000 from bank customers, and over 4,700 victims were linked to this related scheme.  Iliev, 34, formerly of Atlanta, Ga., is currently a fugitive, having fled the United States after his indictment with the assistance of Kees and Bailey.  The other four defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft.  Judge Evans sentenced those four defendants as follows:

  • Atanasov, 31, of Sandy Springs, Ga., was sentenced on April 25, 2014, to seven years in prison, three years of supervised release, and $386,951.12 in restitution.
  • Filtshev, 53, of Atlanta, Ga., was sentenced on April 25, 2014, to seven years and eleven months in prison, three years of supervised release, and $386,951.12 in restitution.
  • Palazov, 29, of Atlanta, Ga., was sentenced on April 25, 2014, to eight years and eleven months in prison, three years of supervised release, and $386,951.12 in restitution.
  • Wohrman, 37, of Buford, Ga., sentenced on April 28, 2014, to eight years and three months in prison, three years of supervised release, and $386,951.12 in restitution.

This case was investigated by Special Agents of the United States Secret Service.

Assistant United States Attorney Stephen H. McClain prosecuted the case.

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016.  The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.

Updated April 8, 2015