Law enforcement agencies cracked a couple of major identity theft cases this past week, busting suspects allegedly responsible for hundreds of attacks on consumers and businesses.
Marten Casarez, 22, was facing up to 20 years in prison as he listened to testimony from nine of his victims at a sentencing hearing in Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday. Casarez took the identities of more than 1,000 people from 33 states and obtained at least $334,000 using credit cards and bank account numbers in 2004 and 2005, according to prosecutors.
Casarez pleaded guilty in nine cases, but four of the charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement. The other five felony charges could land Casarez in jail for up to 20 years, according to a newspaper account of the hearing. Sentencing is expected later this week.
In some of his schemes, Casarez -- who never even graduated high school -- impersonated ministers, doctors, lawyers, police officers, and private investigators, prosecutors said. He once passed himself off as Texas Department of Public Safety detective Michael Leach, and in another memorable case obtained a $240,000 line of credit -- under a woman's name.
Even Casarez's defense lawyer is impressed with his client's cunning. "He reminds me of the guy in Catch Me If You Can," attorney Abe Factor told the newspaper.
While Casarez was pleading guilty in Fort Worth, a California court was hearing the guilty plea of another young man -- Russian-born Roman Karelov, 19 -- in the breakup of a major identity theft conspiracy.
Karelov was convicted of working with Aleksey Chugaev, 25, another Russian national who was also living in Baltimore, Md., on work visa. Chugaev is accused of using stolen identities and credit information to make Internet purchases of laptops, jewelry, gift cards, and travelers checks from U.S. businesses, then having them shipped to various addresses controlled by Karelov.
Karelov then repackaged the items and sent them to addresses in Russia controlled by Chugaev, the FBI says. Karelov also opened bank accounts into which he deposited cash obtained from debit cards purchased with stolen identities. In a plea agreement, Karelov admitted to causing between $200,000 and $400,000 in losses to U.S. victims.
Chugaev is still at large and is presumed to be in Russia. A lesser conspirator, Rakid Nizamov, 22, was sentenced in August to seven months in prison, followed by 36 months of supervised release. Karelov knew that Chugaev was also working with other participants in the scheme who also were located in the United States, according to a statement.
Karelov will be sentenced on December 3. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and is certain to get more than two years, according to the plea agreement. Both Karelov and Nizamov will likely be deported to Russia once they have completed their sentences, authorities said.
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