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Criminal Charges, Volume XXIX: Complex crimes

Jeremy Simon

Any common criminal can snatch a credit card and attempt to make some charges, but it takes a special breed of fraudster to hatch a plan and then follow through with it.

For this week’s edition of Criminal Charges, I’ve pulled together several tales of organized criminal activity that involved multiple individuals who orchestrated more complex attempts to defraud. We’ve got a West Coast gang member who ran a plastic ploy on unsuspecting banks, a trio of women who apparently were no strangers to credit card fraud and a pair of Best Buy shoppers who used fake plastic to make their purchases.

criminal-charges.JPGGang member pleads guilty to prepaid card scheme
With a Feb. 17 guilty plea to charges of bank fraud, Charles “Sho” Barksdale — a member of Sacramento’s “G-Mob” gang — acknowledged his role in a prepaid card scheme that cost financial institutions between $1 million and $2 million.

Barksdale apparently directed an impressive interstate fraud ring. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, criminal schemers operating from California sent runners armed with prepaid cards to states such as Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

Those runners must have been pretty persuasive. “Although the cards only had small amounts of money available, the runners would convince various bank tellers to call a toll-free number that was controlled by a co-schemer,” the release states. “The co-schemer would pose as a card services representative, state that there were thousands of dollars available on the card, and then instruct the teller on what buttons to press on the card terminal in order to make the transaction go through.” Somehow, the tellers must have fallen for this scheme more than once.

For their efforts, a portion of the money would be kept by the runner, with about half the funds passed on to Barksdale and other individuals in the Sacramento area. Runners forwarded on the money using Federal Express, by wire or by depositing funds into bank accounts held by Barksdale and other fraudsters.

On July 7, 2008, Secret Service, FBI and police investigators executed search warrants at various locations in Sacramento. Barksdale was already in Sacramento County Jail on unrelated charges. When Barksdale learned of the police searches, he phoned a female acquaintance. “On the recorded line, he used coded language to instruct the woman to destroy a computer, withdraw funds from a bank account and remove expensive merchandise from a residence,” the press release says.

Barksdale faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced on April 27.

‘Sandra’ made us do it, claims female fraud trio
Once again showing that men aren’t solely responsible for credit card crimes, a trio of New York women were arrested for celebrating Presidents Day with a shopping spree that allegedly involved using a stolen Social Security number to make $6,000 worth of credit card purchases at a Delaware shopping mall.

Linda Bekye, Nehanda Headley and Tracy M. Clark were arrested by a state trooper on Feb. 16  after a call went out to investigate a fraud at the Sears store. Apparently, it wasn’t the women’s first visit: The store’s loss prevention officer recognized one of them and informed the supervisor about a possible fraud, according to a police statement listed in court records.

The loss prevention officer wasn’t the only concerned employee. “The cashier also became alarmed because Bekye did not have a credit card and was using her Social Security number to make purchases under the name of a woman from Montclair, N.J.,” reports the Wilmington, Del., News Journal. “By providing the woman’s personal information, Bekye was able to access the woman’s credit card account, police said.” So maybe the tellers who fell for the Barksdale fraud aren’t the dumbest employees out there.

Police say that Bekye purchased a big screen TV, a camera, Xbox and a small purse but left the store before authorities arrived. The loss prevention officer provided details on the vehicle and direction in which Bekye had fled.

Police caught up to the women and pulled them over, uncovering a treasure trove of apparently fraud-related items, including two flat-screen TVs, a 14-piece flatware set and six Visa gift cards worth over $1,000. Additionally, police found documents bearing names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers for other people, as well as a list of Web sites providing search information on the apparent victims. The women were unable to explain why they had sales receipts in their purses from across the tri-state area.

They did have a story ready for why they were in Delaware, however. “When interviewed, the women told police that that a woman named ‘Sandra’ waived Headley down while she was in New York City and asked her to drive her to Delaware to get some things for her house,” the News Journal reports. “The women told police they did not know ‘Sandra’s’ last name and couldn’t explain why they drove more than two hours to Delaware for someone they did not know.” I didn’t say it was a good story.

When contacted by police, the New Jersey woman whose information was used for the Sears purchases stated she has never been to Delaware, didn’t authorize the purchases and, in fact, was unaware her identity had been stolen and her Social Security number copied.

Best Buy, lousy fraud
Two Brooklyn, N.Y., men were arrested after trying to use fake credit cards to buy an Apple Macbook computer and a Canon digital camera on Feb. 13 from a Best Buy in Massachusetts.

Employees at a Seekonk, Mass., Best Buy called police after Tristan Marc Davis tried using two separate credit cards for the purchase, with one card declined and the other plastic “flagged” by the store register’s computer. “A phone call to the credit card company revealed the credit card being used by Mr. Davis was fraudulent with no existing account. When the second card was declined, Mr. Davis allegedly went behind the counter to try and retrieve it, prompting employees to call the police,” reports I doubt he asked politely.

A police report indicates that Davis’ wallet contained four credit cards that featured holographic images that appeared to be stickers rather than part of the actual card. The credit cards all listed Davis’ name along with TDR Logistic Inc. — which Davis allegedly was unable to identify for officers. Perhaps TDR is a company run by “Sandra”?

Meanwhile, police found alleged partner-in-crime Bryce Andrew Boyd at a restaurant across the parking lot. Once in custody, Boyd allegedly gave false information to officers numerous times.

An agent from the U.S. Secret Service’s Providence, R.I., field office that later interviewed Davis and Boyd identified the duo as part of a large Brooklyn-based counterfeiting ring that uses fraudulent credit cards to buy expensive merchandise. “During the interview, Mr. Davis allegedly admitted to purchasing the fraudulent credit cards from a male party in New York for $700,” the Web site reports.

See related: Criminal Charges: Volume XIX — Female fraudsters

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