Fourth defendant sentenced in scheme using stolen credit card numbers purchased on the internet

U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. sentenced Tomeka V. Harris, age 34, of Baltimore, Maryland, Friday to four years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for conspiring with the leader of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) in Maryland to distribute heroin; and in a separate criminal case, for conspiring to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud banks and credit card companies using stolen credit card information. Judge Quarles also ordered Harris to pay $521,312.67 in restitution.

According to Harris’ plea agreement in the identity theft scheme, from September 2005 through November 2008, Harris and her co-conspirators defrauded banks and credit card companies using stolen credit card information. Harris worked primarily with co-defendant Michael Hayes and other co-conspirators she recruited to work for her. Initially, Hayes provided Harris with bogus credit cards and gift cards in which the magnetic strip on the back of the card had been re-encoded with data from stolen credit card account numbers without the knowledge of the real account holders. Hayes and others purchased these numbers using the internet. Harris used these gift cards and credit cards to buy merchandise and other gift cards which could be used or sold.

Eventually, Harris sold re-encoded cards to others, or caused individuals known as “strikers” to use the fraudulent credit cards at retail stores to buy other gift cards. These individuals were paid cash or a percentage of the goods the co-conspirators were able to obtain by using the cards.

As the conspiracy continued, Harris obtained the equipment to re-encode the stolen credit card numbers onto credit cards and gift cards herself, using stolen credit card numbers provided by Hayes and others. Harris changed the credit cards so that the name shown for the credit account would match the name of the person using the fraudulent card.

Altogether, Harris and her co-conspirators used credit card information relating to over 1,000 stolen credit cards, issued by more than 10 financial institutions. The total loss was more than $500,000.

Five Baltimore defendants have pleaded guilty to the same charges in connection with the identity theft scheme. Four defendants have been sentenced, including Michael Hayes, age 31, who was sentenced to 144 months in prison on June 22, 2010 after admitting to additional offenses of breaking his electronic monitoring, fleeing the jurisdiction and committing a new fraud offense while under pre-trial supervision. The remaining defendant, ringleader Robert Bernard Forrest, age 39, of Baltimore, is scheduled to be sentenced on February 15, 2011.

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office, Maryland

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