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Financial Crimes
04/05/2016

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ICE HSI investigation leads to indictment of a couple for credit card fraud and identity theft

NEW YORK — A couple, who lived a lavish lifestyle by stealing the identity of their victims was indicted Tuesday for a credit card and identity theft scheme. The indictments follow an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Alberto Companioni, 31, and his girlfriend Patricia Perez-Gonzalez, 26, both of Miami, Florida, allegedly stole the identity of victims across the United States resulting in approximately $2 million in fraud. The defendants were charged in New York State Supreme Court with grand larceny in the second and third degree, as well as identity theft in the first and second degrees.  

“The indictment dismantles an identity theft ring that traveled the U.S. in luxury while stealing the identity of over 40 unsuspecting victims along the way, causing more than $2 million in losses that are ultimately passed on to consumers,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York. “We at HSI are committed to protecting the financial system of the United States by combating all types of financial crimes and the people that commit them.”

“The scope of the alleged fraud required the defendants and their co-conspirators to construct a network using stolen information to circumvent typical safeguards intended to prevent fraud, such as chip-enabled credit cards,” said District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. “Across the country, the defendants spared no expense while enjoying the use of credits cards opened in their victims’ names and inflicting damage on their credit. Credit card fraud of this type is becoming increasingly common, and I encourage individuals to monitor their credit reports and financial statements for any unauthorized or suspicious activity.”

According to the indictment and statements made on the record in court, between 2014 and 2016, Companioni and Perez-Gonzalez used American Express credit cards with chip technology created with stolen personal information and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on vacations, designer merchandise, luxury vehicles, and other expenses as part of a scheme involving identity theft and credit card fraud affecting victims across the United States.

The authentic American Express accounts were opened online using personal information from primarily senior citizens who were unaware that their names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers had been stolen and used to open fraudulent accounts. Once an account was established, the American Express cards were shipped to various locations across the country – often vacant homes and properties – and intercepted by the defendants and other co-conspirators. This method of fraud allowed the defendants to run up significant lines of credit with no intention of paying off the charges, and in many cases, victims were unaware that there were large amounts of outstanding debt linked to their names and accounts.

Credit cards were opened in the names of more than 40 different victims, with over $2 million in charges and attempted charges by the defendants and co-conspirators, one of whom currently resides in South America, and is suspected of working with the defendants to orchestrate the scheme.

In the case of Companioni and Perez-Gonzalez, the defendants used the credit cards to pay for trips to New York, California, Hawaii, and other destinations, where they made additional charges for expensive meals, evenings at popular clubs, and shopping sprees at Hermès, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and other designer stores. The credit cards were also used to purchase high-end electronic devices and products, usually from Apple stores, to resell to international buyers overseas.

Perez-Gonzalez also used the credit cards to purchase wholesale merchandise that she resold on her retail clothing website, “Le Fashion Wheels.”

Search warrants executed at multiple properties associated with the defendants in Miami, revealed possession of dozens of credit cards in victims’ names, credit reports in various names, forged identification and licenses, a credit card encoder, blank credit cards, more than ten phones labeled with victims’ names, and merchandise purchased with the fraudulent American Express cards, including a Rolex watch, racing bikes, ski gear, Chanel bags, and other designer clothing and accessories.

The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 04/08/2016