Three California Men Plead Guilty to Perpetuating Fraudulent Cellphone Scheme
ALBUQUERQUE – This afternoon three California men entered guilty pleas to participating in a scheme to fraudulently obtain high-value cellular phones from retail stores in California, Arizona and New Mexico and to resell the cellular phones for profit. The guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales and Resident Agent in Charge Richard Ferretti of Albuquerque Resident Office of the U.S. Secret Service.
Joshua Ferdman, 31, Jeffrey Contella, 28, and Joseph Cohen, 26, of Los Angeles, Cal., and Amir Meir Levi, 36, of Sherman Oaks, Cal., were indicted on Feb. 28, 2012, and charged with (1) conspiracy to transport stolen property and commit access device fraud, and (2) access device fraud. This afternoon, Contella, Cohen and Levi each entered a guilty plea to the indictment without the benefit of any plea agreement.
According to the indictment, in May 2011, the four defendants engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain high-value cellphones, including smartphones, from Sprint stores, and to resell the cellphones in a Van Nuys, Cal., store owned by Cohen and through an on-line store hosted by EBay. The defendants traveled to Sprint stores throughout California, Arizona and New Mexico and fraudulently obtained significant quantities of cellphones by impersonating Sprint customers and the unauthorized use of the customers’ account numbers. The defendants allegedly obtained the phones free of cost by instructing store clerks to bill the cost of the phones to the accounts of the unwitting Sprint customers.
From May 10, 2011 through May 16, 2011, Ferdman and Levi traveled to various Sprint stores in California, including stores in Fullerton, Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Francisco, Sacramento and Folsom, to perpetuate their fraudulent scheme. From May 21, 2011 to May 24, 2011, Ferdman and Contella traveled to various Sprint stores in Arizona and New Mexico for that same purpose. During this period, Levi wired cash to Ferdman and Contella; Ferdman sent cellphones to Levi via Federal Express; Levi delivered the cellphones to Cohen; and Cohen sold the cellphones.
On May 25, 2011, Ferdman, Contella and Levi fraudulently obtained 13 smartphones from a Sprint store in Albuquerque through the unauthorized use of a Sprint customer’s account number. That same day, Ferdman, Contella and Levi attempted to purchase an additional six smartphones from a Sprint store in Albuquerque.
Contella, Cohen and Levi remain on conditions of release pending their sentencing hearings, which have yet to be scheduled. At sentencing, each man faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge, and ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the access device fraud charge.
The United States is seeking forfeiture of all property used by the defendants to commit the offenses charged in the indictment as well as all proceeds obtained by the defendants as a result of their illegal conduct, including funds in a bank account in the name of Cohen’s business and a PayPal, Inc., account. Approximately $250,000 was seized from those accounts pursuant to court-authorized seizure warrants.
Co-defendant Ferdman has entered a not guilty plea and is pending trial. The charges in the indictment against Ferdman are only accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless found proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service and the Albuquerque Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson.