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Press Release

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Charges Against Five New York City Residents In Large-Scale Counterfeit Credit Card Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York
Scheme Involved The Theft Of More Than 150 Account Numbers And Over Half A Million Dollars In Losses

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Brian A. Swain, the Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Office of the United States Secret Service, announced criminal charges against five New York City residents for their participation in a large-scale counterfeit credit card scheme involving over 150 stolen credit card numbers and over half a million dollars in losses to victims. The defendants – LUIS GUSTAVO TAVAREZ, ANTHONY REYNOSO, PLINIO PINEDA LOPEZ, VINCENT D. ESPINAL, and WARNER ALVAREZ ALMANZAR – obtained victims’ credit card numbers from illicit “carding” websites in which cybercriminals sell stolen credit card numbers and other information. TAVAREZ, REYNOSO, and LOPEZ were arrested this morning and will be presented later today in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman. ESPINAL and ALMANZAR remain at large.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, these defendants bought stolen credit card information from cybercriminals to go on a year-long shopping spree with other people’s money. We commend the U.S. Secret Service for their work in putting an end to the shopping spree.”

U.S. Secret Service Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Brian A. Swain said: "As today’s technology continues to evolve, cybercriminals use these advances and enhancements to perpetrate an expanding range of crimes. The Secret Service is committed to deploying cutting edge investigative practices and technology in order to bring these offenders to justice."

According to the allegations in the Criminal Complaint unsealed today:

From at least April 2013 through April 2014, the defendants and their co-conspirators obtained stolen credit card information from “carding” websites, which are Internet-based forums in which users sell and exchange stolen credit card numbers, and/or directly from computer hackers. The defendants encoded that stolen account information onto counterfeit credit cards, which they subsequently used to make hundreds of unauthorized purchases of store gift cards and merchandise at national retail chains in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. The gift cards and retail items were then sold to others or returned to the stores for a cash refund.

As part of the scheme, the defendants and their co-conspirators obtained stolen account information for more than 150 credit card accounts and used that stolen information to make more than $500,000 in unauthorized purchases.

TAVAREZ, 34, REYNOSO, 25, LOPEZ, 24, and ESPINAL, 25, of Bronx, New York, and ALMANZAR, 20, of New York, New York, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of seven-and-a-half years in prison, and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison. The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by the judge.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the Secret Service. He also thanked the Office of Homeland Security Investigations for their assistance with this case.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Wilson is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

U.S. v. Tavarez, Luis Gustavo, et al. complaint 14 mag 1160

Updated May 18, 2015

Press Release Number: 14-165