The last of four Canadian men convicted in a scheme to turn gift cards into phony ATM cards and then withdraw tens of thousands of dollars from bank machines around Burlington was sentenced Thursday in federal court for Vermont.
Brandon Lo, of Laval, Quebec,
Two other co-defendants, Safwan Bensalma, also of Laval; and Nicolau Manfredi, of Montreal; had previously received similar sentences.
Mathieu Baaklini, of Laval, described by prosecutors as the ring’s leader, was sentenced earlier this year to two years in prison and ordered to pay $99,448 in restitution.
Judge Geoffrey Crawford, in sentencing Lo on Thursday on a charge of conspiring to use access devices fraudulently, said the offense was not a victimless crime, adding it was more than just taking money from a “machine that has no life.”
Instead, the judge said, “It cuts away at the trust we all have in the financial systems.”
The scheme started with stealing bank account numbers in Montreal, though how that information was obtained remains unclear, court records stated.
That bank account information was then encoded onto the magnetic strips of stolen gift cards to take money out at ATM machines, according to court records.
“Thus, though requiring some level of tech savvy, the scheme is not very complex: gift cards were turned into ATM cards, and then the phony ATM cards were used to withdraw money from existing bank accounts at ATM locations around Burlington,” Chandler Matson, Lo’s attorney, wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
The men traveled back and forth between Canada and the United States to make the fraudulent ATM withdrawals over a period of several months, court records stated.
The “direct reported loss” is $99,448, spread across six months and 23 financial institutions, according to Matson’s filing. However, according to the court records, that number could be as high as $250,0000 at more than 70 financial institutions.
According to federal prosecutors, ATM transaction records and bank surveillance video shows that on May 24, 2016, approximately $8,800 in cash advances were withdrawn using the suspected fraudulent credit cards.
ATM transaction records and bank surveillance video also showed that between Aug. 22-25, 2016, NBT Bank incurred approximately $54,000 in suspected fraud activity in the form of 500 suspected cash advances on Canadian and European credit and debit cards, according to federal prosecutors.
On Oct. 21, 2016, federal agents executed a search warrant on a storage unit in Williston tied to the ring, where they said they found $33,000 in cash, a laptop computer, a card-reading device, and approximately 378 gift cards with markings indicating that they contained bank account information on them.
Read the full story over at VT Digger.