NEW YORK — Five members of an identity -theft ring, who used personal identifying information to purchase hundreds of designer bags and shoes from Saks Fifth Avenue, were indicted Monday. These arrests and indictments stem from a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Secret Service and the New York District Attorney's Office's Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau.
Tamara Williams, 36, Kriss Rockson, 45, Jason Chance, 25, Alaia Harrison, 20, and Mickael Knight-Williams, 44, were part of an alleged scheme to use stolen personal identifying information from Saks Fifth Avenue customers to purchase approximately $400,000 in luxury goods from the Midtown flagship store for later resale on the black market.
The defendants are charged in a 66-count indictment with grand larceny, attempted grand larceny, scheme to defraud, identity theft, attempted identity theft, criminal possession of stolen property, and unlawful possession of personal identification information.
"American Consumers have never been at greater risk of commercial retail fraud and theft than they are today. These arrests dismantle a criminal organization that sought to use the very technology that has made the United States a global economic power to line their pockets at the expense of unwitting consumers and retail corporations," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "The HSI New York field office will continue to play a leading role in combating all types of financial crimes, and remain closely aligned with the U.S. Secret Service and the Manhattan District Attorney's Cyber Crime and Identify Theft Bureau."
"This identity theft ring was allegedly able to walk away with hundreds of pairs of shoes and bags due to the help of store employees, who are charged with making the fraudulent sales possible," said Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., New York district attorney. "Time after time, we see insiders at companies enabling theft to occur. In just the past few years, prosecutors in my office's Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau have convicted insiders working at fast-food chains, high-end steakhouses, retail stores, parking garages, non-profits, universities, hospitals, banks, and even nursing homes."
"The indictment of these five individuals is yet another example of how the Secret Service continues to successfully combat data theft and financial crimes. The Secret Service utilized state-of-the-art investigative techniques to dismantle this criminal network," said Robert J. Sica, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service New York Field Office. "Our success in this case and other similar investigations is the result of the extraordinary work of our investigators and our close cooperation with our network of law enforcement partners."
According to documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court, between April and August , the alleged ringleader of this scheme, Williams, is accused of providing the personal identifying information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, of more than 20 Saks Fifth Avenue credit card holders to at least four sales associates at the department store: Rockson, Chance, Harrison, and Knight-Williams. The employees would then use the stolen information to purchase luxury goods that Williams pre-selected from designer brands, including Chanel, Valentino, Christian Louboutin, Ferragamo, Balmain, YSL, Gucci, Giuseppe Zanotti, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy.
In some cases, the sales associates would then provide the fraudulently purchased merchandise to a group of "shoppers, who were allegedly recruited by Williams to impersonate Saks accountholders. Three separately charged shoppers, who have previously been arraigned in criminal court, are accused of receiving merchandise that was pre-purchased by the sales associates, and then meeting Williams at designated places, such as hair salons and gas stations in Queens, to hand-off the stolen merchandise, which was then resold on the black market.
As part of the scheme, the shoppers were also sometimes instructed to return certain stolen property to Saks Fifth Avenue in exchange for store gift cards, which were then resold for profit or used as payment for the shoppers' services.
In all, this identity theft ring is believed to be responsible for more than $400,000 in fraudulent purchases over the course of 91 distinct transactions. The evidence reveals that no physical credit card was ever presented; instead, the stolen credit card information was manually entered into the system by the sales associates who processed the transactions. In some instances, no customer was present at the checkout counter during the purchase.
District Attorney Vance thanked the U.S. Secret Service, particularly Special Agent Matthew Wagner with the Access Device Fraud Squad; HSI, particularly Special Agent Todd Kowalski with the Violent Gang Unit; and Saks Fifth Avenue, for their assistance with the investigation.