Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and federal officials announced the guilty plea of Brooklyn resident Winston Harris, 57, a member of an identity theft ring, who victimized hundreds of New Yorkers.
Harris, along with seven others, used the stolen identities of hundreds of innocent victims, produced fake driver’s licenses, and stole over $1 million in merchandise, gift cards and store credits at Home Depot, Sears, Kmart, Kohl’s and other retail stores.
“For more than three years, these defendants methodically victimized hundreds of New Yorkers in an elaborate scheme to line their own pockets,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “We will aggressively crack down on identity theft, and these guilty pleas send a message: Identity thieves will go to jail. ”
Each member of the identity theft ring played particular roles in executing their elaborate scheme. Harris and defendant Eugene Smith impersonated identity theft victims; Mahmoud Abdul Hussein, Ali Abdul Hussein, and Fadal Abdul Hussein – brothers who manufactured fake driver’s licenses; and Francis Hidalgo and Randy White, who bought and resold the illegally obtained store credits.
The guilty pleas were the result of a two-year investigation led by the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
Phillip Smith, the leader of the ring, would obtain the personal identification information of thousands of innocent people, including their names and social security numbers. Smith exploited this information to identify victims with existing credit accounts at large retail stores.
Using this information, Mahmoud Abdul Hussein, Ali Abdul Hussein, and Fadal Abdul Hussein, who operated out of two storefronts in Greenwich Village, produced fake driver’s licenses in the names of victims but with photos of Eugene Smith, Winston Harris and another co-conspirator who impersonated the victims to steal goods and services.
Ring members traveled to stores in at least 12 states, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where they charged expensive merchandise and gift cards to victims’ accounts. These fraudulently obtained goods were then sold to other members of the ring, for approximately 60 percent of their face value.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “Identity theft violates the privacy of its victims and can require countless hours and endless hassles to correct mistaken bills and rehabilitate destroyed credit ratings. It also victimizes the retailers who are left holding the bag for purchases made by thieves. Phillip Smith’s plea and conviction, along with those of his seven cohorts, should send a strong message that we will come down hard on those who engage in this conduct.”