All 111 are believed to be members of five operations, all based in Queens.
“This is by far the largest — and certainly among the most sophisticated — identity theft/credit card fraud cases that law enforcement has come across,” Brown said. The group is believed to be responsible for the theft of $13 million over 16 months.
Search warrants executed last week at 15 locations throughout New York City and Long Island allegedly netted $650,000 in cash, seven handguns, a box truck full of electronic equipment, shoes, watches, computers, card readers and embossers, and raw materials for manufacturing forged credit cards and fake identifications.
Brown said the investigation, called Operation Swiper, began in October 2009 with an investigation by the NYPD’s Identity Theft Squad and his own office’s Economic Crimes Bureau.
The trail eventually led to Florida, California and Puerto Rico, with suspects having ties to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Forged credit cards and documents were used by organized groups to purchase merchandise across the country, including at area establishments such as the Queens Center mall in Elmhurst and Roosevelt Field in Garden City, LI.
In the announcement of the arrests, authorities said in some cases bank tellers, store employees and restaurant workers took credit card information which was used to forge new credit cards, and official documents such as New York State drivers’ licenses, which then fueled lavish lifestyles.
“Many of the defendants charged today are accused of going on nationwide shopping sprees, staying at five-star hotels, renting luxury cars and private jets and purchasing tens of thousands of dollars worth of high-end electronics and expensive handbags and jewelry with forged credit cards that contained the account information of unsuspecting customers,” he said.
He added that even after the suspects are prosecuted, the victims will still have a difficult time repairing their credit ratings.
“These weren’t holdups at gunpoint, but the impact on the victims was the same,” Kelly said. “They were robbed.”
Some of the suspects also allegedly have ties to other crimes in the area, such as conspiracy to commit bank robbery in Forest Hills; the theft of more than $95,000 in cargo from Kennedy Airport; and the theft of approximately $850,000 worth of computer equipment from the Citigroup Building in Long Island City.
Surveillance including court-approved wiretaps and electronic eavesdropping intercepted thousands of conversations, some of which required translation from Russian, Mandarin and Arabic, investigators said.
The schemes allegedly began with skimmers who worked in stores, restaurants, bars and banks using machines to swipe customers’ information, and then passing that information on to their bosses, named in the indictments as Imran Khan, Ali Khweiss, Anthony Martin, Sanjay (Rocky) Deowsarran and Amar Singh.
The bosses then would send stolen account numbers to manufacturers who would transfer the information to magnetic strips on blank credit cards. In one case a lawyer is accused of helping clients commit new crimes and avoid prosecution.
Completed cards were sent to shopping crews who allegedly operated throughout the country. Some of those charged are accused of working with more than one of the organizations.