The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated that four Quebec men have recently been sentenced in United States District Court in Rutland following their guilty pleas to charges stemming from their involvement in a cross-border conspiracy to commit access device fraud. U.S. District Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford sentenced Mathieu Baaklini, 22, a leader of the conspiracy who lives in Laval, to 24 months of imprisonment. He also sentenced three lesser-involved participants, Safwan Bensalma, 22, of Laval, Brandon Lo, 25, of Laval, and Nicolau Manfredi, 22, of Montreal, to time served. Baaklini has been held in custody since his arrest on October 24, 2016. Bensalma, Lo and Manfredi all spent about two weeks in jail following their October 2016 arrests before they were released after posting cash bail. The court also ordered that Baaklini serve three years of supervised release following completion of his prison term and pay restitution of more than $68,000, while Bensalma, Lo and Manfredi were each ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution.
According to court records, at various times between March and October 2016, the four men traveled from Quebec to Burlington, Vermont, where they used ATM machines in Burlington and Essex to obtain cash advances on counterfeit debit cards made with account information from mostly European and Canadian accountholders. Authorities believe the card numbers were skimmed from taxi patrons in the Montreal area. ATM transaction records and bank surveillance video shows that on May 24, 2016, approximately $8,800 in cash advances were withdrawn using suspected fraudulent credit cards. Records further show that on May 25, 2016, one of the charged conspirators made $11,000 in wire transfers from Chittenden and Franklin Counties, Vermont to locations in Quebec. ATM transaction records and bank surveillance video further shows that between August 22-25, 2016, NBT Bank incurred approximately $54,000 in suspected fraud activity in the form of 500 suspected cash advances on Canadian and European credit and debit cards. All told, banks suffered losses of more than $98,000.
On October 21, 2016, federal agents executed a search warrant on a storage unit in Chittenden County, Vermont, where they recovered approximately $33,000 in cash, a laptop computer, a card-reading device, and approximately 378 gift cards with markings indicating that they contained bank account information on them.
All four men were arrested on October 24, 2016 by Department of Homeland Security Agents at the Highgate Springs, Vermont Port of Entry as they attempted to enter the United States.
Homeland Security Investigations, with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Burlington Police Department conducted the investigation into this matter. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Waples is handling the prosecution. Baaklini is represented by Mark Kaplan. Bensalma is represented by Craig Nolan. Lo is represented by Chandler Matson and Manfredi by Douglas Kallen.