U.S. Secret Service agents have busted an alleged identity theft ring involving young adults with Israeli passports who flew into California, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cigarettes from businesses like Sam's Club in Orange County with fraudulent credit cards and hoped to get hefty payments upon their return to the Middle East.
In a criminal complaint filed this month inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Special Agent James A. Mikkelson identified Khaled Kananbi, Yousef Khatib and Wisam Salti as active members of the organized crime con game that often used the social security numbers of children and young adults to get credit cards from G.E. Capital Retail Bank and Discover Card.
If the Secret Service is right, these thieves were brazen: demanding substantial credit limit increases as soon as they received the cards and entering stores to steal massive quantities of cigarettes (apparently preferring Marlboro), according to the government's complaint.
"In my training and experience, individuals like Kananbi, Khatib and Salti--who are only in the country on limited VISAs--open up numerous credit accounts in a short amount of time and run high amounts of charges in that short amount of time because they intend to 'bust out' of the accounts--i.e., they have no intention of paying off the charges incurred on the accounts, causing a loss to the banks and credit card issuers," Mikkelson stated.
One of the suspects told the Secret Service that he'd been recruited for the job while in Israel and said he'd been promised $20,000 in compensation.
Using airline data bases, federal agents monitored the suspect's plans to flee the U.S. in coming days, according to court records.
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Future hearing dates haven't been scheduled because the case is in its early stages.
Assistant United States Attorney Ivy A. Wang, who is based in Santa Ana, will handle prosecution duties for the U.S. Department of Justice.