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.
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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.