United States Attorney
Eastern District of New York
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Leader of Credit Card Fraud Ring Sentenced in New York to 39 Months in Prison
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Earlier today in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Fernando Lahoz, a Brooklyn resident who led a credit card fraud ring that targeted foreign tourists visiting New York, was sentenced to 39 months in prison for credit card fraud and aggravated identity theft. U.S. District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano imposed the sentence under Lahoz’s December 2010 guilty plea. David Vidal, a co-defendant who previously pleaded guilty, was sentenced in June 2011 by Judge Vitaliano to 24 months in prison.
The sentence was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Brian G. Parr, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), New York Field Office; and Ronald J. Verrochio, Postal Inspector-in-Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), New York Division.
Lahoz and others he recruited stole credit card account information from real credit card holders through the use of a small electronic instrument called a “skimmer device.” Lahoz provided a skimmer device to a cashier at a high-end retail store in lower Manhattan and paid the cashier to use the device on his behalf. Lahoz instructed the cashier to target foreign tourists who were less likely to detect the fraud until after they returned to their home countries, thus giving the fraud team more time to make unauthorized credit card charges before the accounts were frozen by the bank. The cashier attached the skimmer device to his belt with Velcro and swiped the credit cards of unsuspecting customers through the skimmer device thereby capturing real customer credit card account information in the memory of the skimmer device. Lahoz later downloaded this stolen credit card account information onto counterfeit credit cards that he purchased overseas, and then used the counterfeit credit cards to buy high priced electronics at various retail stores in Brooklyn and Queens.
“Fraud schemes such as this increase the cost of credit for all consumers,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch. “This scheme was more egregious because it targeted vulnerable foreign tourists. Visitors to our city are a vital part of our economy. When they depart our shores, they should not have to leave their identities behind. The prison sentences imposed in these cases should serve as a warning to those who would consider engaging in this type of fraud.”
USSS Special Agent-in-Charge Parr said, “Credit card fraud schemes, on a large scale, can ultimately affect the public’s confidence and trust in financial payment systems. This type of fraud continues to be a top investigative priority for the U.S. Secret Service.”
USPIS Postal Inspector-in-Charge Verrochio said, “Whenever someone uses the U.S. mail to conduct fraudulent activities, postal inspectors will find them and bring them to justice. We are committed to keeping the mail safe for our customers.”
The government’s case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Woll and Una Dean.
This law enforcement action is part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. More information about the Task Force can be found at www.stopfraud.gov.