Swipe by swipe, they got rich at Walmart registers.
Eight traveling gang members stole millions of dollars, authorities say, by using cloned credit cards at Walmart stores across the country to buy gift cards, sometimes buying more than $100,000 in cards in a single day and then reselling them in Michigan. Occasionally, they bought personal items, too, like underwear, Mountain Dew and popcorn chicken, records show.
But the gig didn't last.
According to an indictment unsealed Wednesday, after nearly three years of running what prosecutors called a "calculated" scheme, eight members of the so-called Free Band Gang were charged with a slew of identity theft and fraud charges.
Seven of the charged, however, remain missing. Six are from metro Detroit; one from New York — all of them accused of playing fast and loose with stolen money in states including Virginia, Missouri, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.
"In the span of nine hours, two of these defendants allegedly traveled to 10 Walmart stores in and around Bentonville, Arkansas, used three counterfeit credit cards, and made over $100,000 in fraudulent purchases,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement. “This was not uncommon for this group. Over three years, the defendants allegedly stole millions of dollars in an organized, calculated scheme."
Schneider added: "Because Michigan is a national leader in identity theft, we are literally working day and night to break up these fraud rings and put the perpetrators where they belong: in federal prison.”
The eight defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and aggravated identity theft in a 23-count indictment.
- Toriano Adams, 32, of Eastpointe
- Anthony Adams, 32, of Troy, who is in federal custody.
- Devin Simmons, 32, of Sterling Heights
- Aatif Brown, 25, of Detroit
- OD Williams, 27, of Detroit
- Denico Adams. 26, of Detroit
- Rodney Gist, 27, of Detroit
- Tayan Jackson, 32, of Brooklyn, New York
The whereabouts of the defendants, with the exception of Anthony Adams, are not known. Adams is locked up pending a detention hearing on Friday. His attorney, a public defender, was not readily available for comment.
According to the indictment, here's how the defendants pulled off the alleged scheme:
The suspects obtained stolen credit card accounts in bulk through various sources, including so-called “dump” sites on the internet. The stolen accounts were then pressed on the front of counterfeit cards to create cloned credit cards, which were then used at Walmart stores nationwide to buy $500 gift cards
The U.S. Attorney's Office did not have a total figure for how much was stolen, beyond saying, "the scheme lasted for nearly three years and resulted in millions in losses."
Detroit's FBI chief Timothy Slater stressed that this type of identity theft and credit card fraud "is not a victimless crime."
"It has a negative impact not only on the corporations involved but on the individual whose identity is stolen,” Slater said.
The case involves Walmart's Global Investigations Team and numerous law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Michigan State Police, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and police departments in Auburn Hills, Birmingham, Bloomfield Township and West Bloomfield Township.
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas