Criminal Justice News

Friday, January 23, 2015

15th Member of Washington, D.C.-Based Identity Theft Ring Pleads Guilty



Defendant Admits To Targeting Parents Of Hospitalized Children, Among Others

A Maryland woman pleaded guilty today in connection with her involvement in a sophisticated identity theft ring that stole the identities of over 600 individuals in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas with an estimated loss of well over $1 million.  Fifteen members of the fraud ring—which targeted, among others, the parents of sick and injured kids receiving treatment at a children’s hospital in Washington, D.C.—have been convicted so far as a result of this investigation.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein of the District of Maryland and Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Michalko of the U.S. Secret Service’s Washington Field Office made the announcement after the guilty plea was accepted by U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton of the Eastern District of Virginia.

“Identity theft wreaks havoc on the lives of American citizens every year,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “But this group took the distress to a new level by targeting the parents of hospitalized children and stealing their identities, as well as those of other customers and members of businesses in the Washington, D.C., area.  Along with our law enforcement partners, the Criminal Division is committed to protecting the privacy and financial security of the American people from both foreign and domestic thieves.”

Leah Shanae Elliott, 22, of Clinton, Maryland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, access device fraud and identity theft.  A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 24, 2015, before Judge Hilton.  

In a statement of facts filed with her plea agreement, Elliott admitted that she was a member of a large-scale identity theft ring that operated in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and elsewhere.  According to Elliott, members of the ring used their employment at local businesses and nonprofits—including banks, credit unions, medical and dental centers, employee associations, restaurants and stores—to access and steal personally identifiable information (PII) such as social security numbers, addresses, and dates of birth, as well as debit and credit card information.  The conspirators then used this stolen information to manufacture fraudulent driver’s licenses and other identifications, as well as fraudulent debit and credit cards.  Conspirators used the fake identifications and debit or credit cards to establish lines of credit, purchase merchandise at retail establishments, make unauthorized withdrawals from victims’ bank accounts and manufacture and cash counterfeit checks.

Elliott specifically admitted that that she stole PII and debit and credit card information at the restaurant at which she worked, and used stolen PII and fraudulent driver’s licenses to open lines of credit and obtain rental vehicles, computers, televisions, cameras, watches, jewelry and other items under victims’ names.  She also admitted that she retrieved “skimming” devices loaded with stolen PII and debit and credit card information from other members of the conspiracy and used those devices to transfer the stolen information into fake identifications and debit and credit cards.

Further, Elliott admitted that she solicited her mother—a credit and collections representative at a children’s hospital in Washington, D.C.—to steal the identities of parents of sick or injured children, and that after a further request from one of the ring’s leaders, her mother ultimately provided 78 stolen “profiles” from the hospital.

Members of the fraud ring previously convicted include:

    Erin Lyles-Armstrong, 34, of Germantown, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft on Feb. 1, 2012;

    Justin Gatling, 28, of Silver Spring, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of exceeding authorized access to information stored in a computerized financial record of a financial institution on March 29, 2012;

    Segale Battle, 30, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to identity theft on Sept. 15, 2013;

    Rungnatee Pearson, 45, of Bronx, New York, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud on Sept. 18, 2013;

    Jamille Ferguson, 31, of Dumfries, Virginia, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Oct. 8, 2013;

    Christopher Bush, 30, of New York, New York, who pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud, one count of access device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Oct. 11, 2013;

    Jenaro Blalock, 31, of Clinton, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Oct. 29, 2013;

    Kevin Middleton, 32, of McClellanville, South Carolina, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud on Dec. 16, 2013;

    Adrienne Pritchett, 42, of District Heights, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Oct. 3, 2013;

    Tekia Thomas, 22, of Alexandria, Virginia, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud on Oct. 8, 2013;

    Elizabeth Monika Hunter, 20, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, who pleaded guilty to one account of access device fraud on Jan. 28, 2014;

    LaShawn Powell, 35, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements on April 15, 2014;

    Detrius Elliott, 43, of Clinton, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of identity theft on May 29, 2014; and

    Chantel Thompson, 22, of Washington, D.C., who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, access device fraud, and identity theft on Jan. 9, 2015.

Most of the defendants have already been sentenced.  Last year Judge Hilton sentenced Blalock and Bush, two of the leaders of the ring, to 12 years in prison and 10 years in prison, respectively.  Blalock was also ordered to pay $614,685.58 in restitution.

The U.S. Secret Service led this investigation, with significant assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General, Montgomery County Police Department, Fairfax County Police Department, City of Fairfax Police Department, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Prince George’s County Police Department’s Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement Unit and others.  The cases are being prosecuted by Senior Counsels Matthew A. Lamberti and Peter V. Roman of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamera Fine of the District of Maryland.

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