Twenty-seven people have been indicted for their role in a far-reaching identity theft ring that used stolen credit cards to purchase products from Apple stores around the country and then resell them for a profit, prosecutors in Manhattan announced Wednesday.
The defendants were hit with a total of 57 counts in two separate conspiracies, one which ran between June 2008 and December 2010 and another that lasted from September to December 2010, according to a news release from the New York County district attorney's office.
According to prosecutors, the racket, known as "S3," was responsible for purchasing stolen credit card numbers from underground forums and using the data to create counterfeit cards.
The ringleader, Shaheed Bilal, 28, of Brooklyn, N.Y. ran the operation out of his prison cell, directing his girlfriend, Ophelia Alleyne, 29, also of Brooklyn, to manage the fraudulent business, prosecutors said. Masterminds directed a number of so-called "shoppers" to use the forged credit cards, which included their real names but had stolen numbers, at Apple stores across 12 states and the District of Columbia. They purchased products such as iPods, iPads and MacBooks.
"Once purchased, the goods were then sold for cash at below retail cost to several different individuals in Brooklyn acting as 'fences,'" the news release said. "In turn, the fences would then resell the illegally obtained goods at a profit."
Later last year, one of the shoppers, Anthony Harper, 28, of Brooklyn created his own ring, which was organized in a similar way to Bilal's operation. Harper's racket was responsible for the second conspiracy.
During arrests Tuesday, authorities uncovered three firearms, ammunition and tools used to make bogus credit cards, prosecutors said. In addition, the district attorney's office seized $300,000 belonging to the group. Charges for the defendants included second-, third- and fourth degree grand larceny, second-degree forgery, second-degree possession of a forged instrument and fourth-degree conspiracy.
"This case demonstrates the dangers of organized computer crime," New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance said. "Today, we have effectively dismantled a significant criminal operation that preyed upon innocent victims around the world."
Apple cooperated in the investigation, prosecutors said. A spokesperson at the computer giant could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.