Defendants Include Employees From Check-Cashing Institutions Who Used Their Positions to Access Victim Information, Create Counterfeit Checks
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. today announced the indictments of 35 individuals for their roles in two separate, unrelated “debit card cracking” schemes targeting customer accounts at Chase Bank, Citibank, Santander Bank, and other financial institutions.
“As our streets get safer and safer, thieves are adapting by going online,” said District Attorney Vance. “Today we’re charging dozens of defendants who preyed on unsuspecting New Yorkers by stealing their personal information to produce fake checks and then made cash withdrawals on those bad checks for a steep profit. My office’s Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau is among the best in the nation at rooting out these large-scale digital crimes. If you notice suspicious activity, please contact our Cybercrime and Identity Theft hotline at: (212) 335-9600.”
Twenty-six individuals are charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with 32 counts, including Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. Nine individuals are charged in a separate, 14-count indictment with Grand Larceny in the Second, Third and Fourth Degrees, Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, and other related charges. The indictments stem from two long-term investigations by the Manhattan D.A.’s Office’s Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau.
According to the indictment and documents filed in court, between August 2015 and May 2017, defendants JUSTIN SIMON, MIGUEL FRANCO, KEBER HERRERA-MARTINEZ, JAVIER HERRERA, and QUENTIN MILLIGAN unlawfully accessed the online digital storage accounts of at least three different check-cashing institutions. Once the defendants had access to the accounts, they photographed hundreds of digitally stored check images and then used stolen bank account and personal identifying information to create counterfeit checks. In addition, JOANNA BROWN, who was employed at one of the check-cashing institutions, photographed checks that she received at the sales counter and e-mailed the photographs to a co-defendant to produce more counterfeit checks. The defendants then deposited the counterfeit checks at various banking institutions and made cash withdrawals once the banks made the funds available, but before the banks detected the checks as counterfeit. Ultimately, had the defendants successfully deposited all of the fraudulent checks, the losses would have totaled more than $18 million.
One of the banking institutions contacted a member of the NYPD, and the matter was subsequently referred to the Manhattan D.A.’s Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau. A search warrant executed at the defendants’ homes and on their social media and cloud accounts showed that the defendants used computer software and blank check stock to produce thousands of fraudulent checks, primarily targeting Chase Bank and Citibank accounts.
According to the indictment and documents filed in court, between October 2014 and April 2017, the defendants obtained debit cards and personal identifying information from several individuals in exchange for money and then used that information to create counterfeit checks. In addition, defendants WILLIAM JOHNSON and JAMAL WADE, who were employed at check-cashing institutions, used their positions to access, copy, and share bank account and personal identifying information to produce more counterfeit checks. The defendants then deposited the counterfeit checks at various banking institutions such as Chase Bank, Citibank, TD Bank, and Santander Bank, and made cash withdrawals once the banks made the funds available, but before the banks detected the checks as counterfeit.
The matter was referred to the Manhattan D.A.’s office by the NYPD’s Criminal Enterprises Investigations Section.
Assistant D.A. Alona Katz is handling the prosecution of the first case with Assistant D.A. Benjamen Roth under the supervision of Assistant D.A.s Jeremy Glickman and Robert Shull, Deputy Chiefs of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau, and Elizabeth Roper, Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau, as well as Executive Assistant D.A. Michael Sachs, Chief of the Investigation Division. Cybercrime Analysts Jovanni Rodriguez and Michael Brennan, Jr. and former Cybercrime Analyst Jonathan Simmons provided valuable assistance on the case. D.A. Vance also thanked the NYPD for its assistance on the investigation, particularly Detective Ramon Velez of the Financial Crimes Task Force.
Assistant D.A. Francesca Rios is handling the prosecution of the second case under the supervision of Assistant D.A.s Jeremy Glickman and Robert Shull, Deputy Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau, and Elizabeth Roper, Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau, as well as Executive Assistant D.A. Michael Sachs, Chief of the Investigation Division. Assistant D.A.s Katherine Gora and Jessica Peck and Senior Cybercrime Analyst Kristen Spaeth provided valuable assistance on the case. D.A. Vance also thanked the NYPD, particularly Detective Gregory Siciliano of the Criminal Enterprises Investigations Section, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations for their assistance on the investigation.
 “Debit card cracking” refers to a scheme in which checking account holders are recruited, usually on social media, to provide their debit cards and PIN numbers. The checking accounts are then used by the perpetrators to deposit forged checks, and withdraw funds before the banks detect the forgeries.
 The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court.