Kenneth Joseph Lucas II Gets 13 Years for Running International Phishing Scam and Indoor Pot Farm

UPDATE, JUNE 28, 2 P.M.:

Sentences totaling 13 years for convictions in two cases have been given to

Kenneth Joseph Lucas II

, the "kingpin" of an international "phishing" operation that used spam e-mails and bogus websites to collect personal information used to defraud American banks. The 27-year-old Baldwin Hills man was the most high-profile "get" from "Operation Phish Phry," a multinational investigation conducted in the U.S. and Egypt that led to charges in the fall of 2009 against 100 people--the largest number of defendants ever charged in a cybercrime case--including

Me Arlene Settle

, 22, of Garden Grove.

United States District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank in LA sentenced Lucas Friday to 11 years in federal lockup. He previously pleaded guilty to 49 counts of bank and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, computer fraud, and money laundering conspiracy charges.

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Fairbank called Lucas' role in the phishing scheme "deliberate and ongoing," said his actions showed an "extreme disregard for the law and the community," and labeled him a "key and active player in the bank fraud" that extended from Southern California to Nevada, North Carolina, Maryland, and overseas in Egypt, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney in LA.

To date, 47 people have been convicted in the federal court in LA as a result of Operation Phish Phry.

But the courts there were not done with Lucas until Monday afternoon, when federal Judge Gary A. Feess sentenced him to five more years for running an indoor marijuana growing operation at his residence. Two of those years will run concurrent with the sentence in the phishing scam, giving him 13 years total behind bars. The U.S. Attorney release said of the narcotics case:

Lucas oversaw the construction of an indoor marijuana grow operation at his residence in 2009. After installing an irrigation system, ventilation equipment, indoor lights and fans, Lucas posted videos on YouTube that showcased the grow operation. On October 7, 2009, authorities found 100 marijuana plants in the grow room, and Lucas admitted to having grown and sold a prior crop, which netted him $45,000.


That's, of course, chump change compared to the phishing scam, which Fairbank ruled had hauled in more than $1 million.

 
UPDATE, MARCH 28, 3:49 P.M.: When federal indictments were announced in the fall of 2009 as part of Operation "Phish Phry," a multinational investigation conducted in the United States and Egypt that led to charges against 100 people, it was hailed as the largest number of defendants ever charged in a cybercrime case. Five more people have been found guilty in the case, pushing the total number of convictions up to 46.

One of those most recently convicted was Me Arlene Settle, 22, of Garden Grove.

Settle was found guilty Friday of conspiracy and two counts of bank fraud. She and the four other defendants are scheduled to by sentenced by U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank in Los Angeles on Oct. 31. Each count could fetch Settle 30 years in federal lock-up.

The international "phishing" operation relied on spam e-mails and bogus websites to collect personal information from bank customers which in turn was used to defraud American banks. The customers, thinking they were corresponding with their financial institutions, willingly gave up their account numbers, passwords, PINs and other personal information. Because the phonies used the same logos and legal disclaimers as the banks, the customers did not even realize they'd been victimized.

The Egyptian part of the ring hacked into the American banks. The phishers' associates in the U.S. acted as "runners" to set up bank accounts which collected funds illegally transferred from the accounts of legitimate customers. Money was then wired back to Egypt.

Others beside Settle found guilty Friday were:

  • Nichole Michelle Merzi, 25, of Oceanside, who was found guilty of conspiracy, computer fraud, bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft;
  • Tramond S. Davis, 21, of Las Vegas, Nevada, who was found guilty of conspiracy;
  • Shontovia D. Debose, 22, of Las Vegas, Nevada, who was found guilty of conspiracy;
  • Anthony Donnel Fuller, 22, of Corona, who was found guilty of conspiracy and two counts of bank fraud.

Kenneth Joseph Lucas, 26, of Los Angeles, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 22. Jonathan Preston Clark, 26, of Los Angeles, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bank fraud. He is scheduled to go before Judge Fairbank for sentencing on June 8.

No, not that kind of fish fry.
No, not that kind of fish fry.

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