Identity thieves stole over 1,000 credit cards from mailboxes in Manhattan

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stack of credit cards you get in the mail on white

NEW YORK, NY – Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the indictment of ten individuals for a $750,000 identity theft conspiracy committed between January 2017 and August 2019. Ringleader MICHAEL RICHARDS, 37, is charged with recruiting multiple United States Postal Service (“USPS”) mail carriers, including KENNISHA MURRELL, 36, CURQUAN HIGHSMITH, 31, BRUCE BIENVENU, 31, and KENNETH FREEMAN, JR., 25, to steal credit cards from the mail they delivered in New York City and Virginia. Members of the conspiracy used online databases to learn personal identifying information about the cardholders in order to activate the cards and purchase high-end goods at luxury retailers. The defendants are charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, as well as three counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree and other related charges.[1]
 
“This holiday season, we know that identity thieves will be targeting not just our inboxes, but our mailboxes,” said District Attorney Vance. “So, we’re putting scammers on notice: the Manhattan D.A.’s Office has the expertise, resources, and partnerships in cybercrime and identity theft to find you and hold you accountable. We will continue to work hand-in-hand with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the NYPD to stamp out fraud and protect the integrity of a service relied upon by millions of New Yorkers.”
 
USPIS Inspector in Charge Philip R. Bartlett said: “The USPS has more than 640,000 professional and dedicated employees. Unfortunately, we occasionally identify a few bad actors who are swiftly removed from government service. Today’s arrests of this gang of criminals is an example of the commitment of Postal Inspectors and their law enforcement partners to bring those to justice for illegal acts against the public, no matter where they are found.”

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“Today’s indictment alleges an elaborate, national fraud scheme that betrayed our mail delivery system to prey on innocent victims. But fortunately, our NYPD investigators, law enforcement partners and prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, worked in tandem to dismantle this enterprise and bring these defendants to justice,” said Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.

As alleged, between January 2017 and August 2019, the defendants stole more than $750,000 from financial institutions by removing more than 1,000 customer credit cards from the mail and using them to purchase high-end retail items. RICHARDS, the ringleader, recruited and paid United States Postal Service mail carriers FREEMAN, JR., HIGHSMITH, MURRELL, and BIENVENU, to steal credit cards from their routes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Burke, Virginia. RICHARDS paid the mail carriers different amounts depending on how well the cards they stole performed.
 
SHAMAR HAUGHTON, 38, acted as a courier, retrieving stolen mail containing credit cards from the carriers. JUSTIN FORGENIE, 33, provided RICHARDS with the personal identifying information of the stolen credit cardholders that he obtained by searching cardholder names in subscription databases like LexisNexis and Transunion. TATIANA SMITH, 34, used the stolen credit cards and personal identifying information to make retail purchases at RICHARDS’ direction, including at Hermes, Bloomingdale’s, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus, Best Buy, and Macy’s. RICHARDS instructed SMITH to purchase items that could easily be resold, or returned for store credit which was then sold for cash. SUZANA MIKHAYLOVA, 34, and DANIEL MIKHAYLOVA, 39, made unauthorized transactions at the jewelry store they owned, The Watch Standard, by processing fictitious transactions using the store’s merchant card processing accounts. 
 
The fraud was uncovered in February 2019 when a credit card company noticed a pattern of new cards not reaching their owners, and reached out to the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”) for assistance. The indictment is the result of a joint investigation between the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, the USPIS, and the NYPD.
 
Assistant D.A. Alexander Owen is handling the prosecution of the case under the supervision of Assistant D.A.s Robert Shull (Deputy Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau), and Elizabeth Roper (Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau), and Gloria Garcia (Deputy Chief of the Investigations Division) as well as Executive Assistant D.A. Christopher Conroy (Chief of the Investigation Division). Cybercrime Analyst Jacob Goldfischer, Cybercrime Analyst Maria Corbisierio, Cybercrime Analyst Karla Zavala Vilchez, members of the High Tech Analysis Unit, and former Cybercrime analysts Jovani Rodriguez and Charles Fraker provided invaluable assistance on the case. 
 
D.A. Vance thanked the NYPD, particularly Detectives John Munari of the Financial Crimes Task Force, as well as the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General, particularly Postal Inspector Michael Giannone, and Postal Inspector Jacabed Ventura.

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