Five More Individuals Charged in Cyber Crime/Bank Fraud Scheme
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, announce that five individuals have been charged in connection with a scheme that uses stolen identification information to gain online access to personal bank accounts in order to steal from unwitting account holders. The charges represent the most recent efforts to neutralize this cybercrime scheme, which has already led to 17 convictions in three separate cases. Today’s cases bring the number of people charged in this scheme to 22 in six separate cases. As a result of this fraud, several financial institutions have reported millions of dollars in losses.
Those charged today include Wassim Jamal Abouassali, 22, of Plantation; Luis M. Jimenez, 25, of Miami; Jesus Venereo, 27, of Hialeah; Lazaro Perez, 27, of Hialeah; and Raul Riveron, 43, of Hialeah. Abouassali is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1349, 15 substantive counts of bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1344, and seven counts of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1028A, all in case number 14-20565-CR-Ungaro. Jimenez is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1349, 22 substantive counts of bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1344, and 10 counts of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1028A, all in case number 14-20564-CR-Cooke. In case number 14-20566-CR-Williams, Venereo, Perez, and Riveron are charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1349; Venereo and Perez are charged in 15 substantive bank fraud counts, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1344, while Riveron is charged in nine of those same counts; and Venereo and Perez are charged in eight counts of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1028A, while Riveron is charged in four of those same counts. The indictments allege that Abouassali and Jimenez were tellers at different Wells Fargo bank branches.
All defendants charged have been taken into custody and are expected to make their initial appearances today at 2:00 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes.
If convicted, the defendants face the following possible maximum statutory sentences: 30 years in prison on the bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy counts; and consecutive two-years in prison on the aggravated identity theft counts.
According to the charges, members of the scheme paid for personal identification information such as names, birthdates and social security numbers, along with bank account numbers, which they would use to make online intrusions into the accounts of victims. In some cases, members of the scheme created online access for accounts where it did not previously exist. Once they obtained access, conspirators changed account passwords and contact information in order to take control of the victims’ accounts. They then used that online access to obtain images of checks and signatures in order to create counterfeit and forged checks. As a final step, additional individuals would be recruited to cash the counterfeit checks at various bank branches. Several financial institutions have reported losses amounting to millions of dollars as a result of this fraud. Today’s arrests involve efforts to target accounts at Wells Fargo, while previous cases have involved intrusions into accounts at other financial institutions.
“Today’s charges involve an alleged modern-day bank robbery scheme that targeted banks using stolen personal identification information (PII) from various individuals to hijack personal checking accounts and steal funds. However, instead of using guns or masks to rob the banks, these charged individuals used the Internet,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. “Cybercrime is one of the greatest threats we face today. These cases should serve as a reminder to all consumers to exercise vigilance in protecting their PII and for all institutions to remain vigilant in safekeeping our PII.”
“These indictments are due in large part to the diligent investigative work of the FBI’s Miami Cyber Task Force,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “More and more, criminals are using the Internet to steal millions of dollars from thousands of account holders without ever stepping inside a bank. The FBI and our partners continue to actively target these fraudsters who seek illicit gains from unwitting victims.”
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI. These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rochlin.
An indictment is only an accusation and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls.