Three plead guilty to cell phone fraud

Michael P. Tremoglie Jan. 17, 2012, 7:57am

NEW YORK -- Three people have pleaded guilty to fraud accusations just prior to trial.

On Jan. 11, the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn said Courtney Beckford 51, Malachi Burris 47, and Samuel Burris 52, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud charges arising from their roles in a plot that obtained millions of dollars worth of cellular phones from AT&T, T-Mobile and Asurion Protection Services.

According to the announcement, between February 2005 and July 2009 the three defendants and 12 co-conspirators, who previously pled guilty in this case, fraudulently obtained existing customer information from AT&T's and T-Mobile's customer databases. This included customers' names, addresses and personal identifying information.

The various defendants then assumed the identities of existing customers and used this information to obtain new or replacement wireless devices from AT&T and T-Mobile. The value of the equipment amounted to millions of dollars. The equipment was delivered to them via FedEx, DHL and UPS -- without payment to the companies or permission from the real customers.

AT&T's wireless devices were generally shipped to addresses along the routes of FedEx and DHL drivers, who were recruited and paid to divert packages to the defendants. The defendants subsequently sold the fraudulently obtained devices to others in the United States and Jamaica. The charges incurred from the use of the stolen devices were billed to actual AT&T and T-Mobile customers' accounts. When those customers reported or confirmed the fraud on their accounts, AT&T and T-Mobile absorbed the losses.

"Identity theft strikes fear in the minds of consumers, and as this case demonstrates, with good reason," U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said. "This prosecution resulted in the dismantling of a pervasive fraud ring that stole millions of dollars of cellular phones through theft, fraud and the collusion of corrupt delivery drivers.

"Fifteen convicted defendants who preyed upon innocent victims will now be held accountable for their actions."

Lynch expressed appreciation to the Secret Service, the agency responsible for leading the government's investigation, and thanked the New York State Police for their assistance. The three defendants are could be sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment on the mail and wire fraud conspiracy convictions.

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