Credit card conspirators sentenced

Judge considered effect on banks and customers whose credit cards had been cloned

Five people who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud Cayman banks with cloned credit cards were sentenced on Friday to prison terms that ranged from 22 months to two and a half years.

The four men and one woman had pleaded guilty to other charges as well – including converting criminal property (the cash obtained from Automatic Teller Machines with the fraudulent cards) by paying for goods or services.

Justice Alastair Malcolm said the conspiracy charge represented the criminality in this case.

Conspiracy is an agreement to commit an offense, he pointed out, so the offense was committed as soon as the agreement was made. The starting point in considering the seriousness of the conspiracy was what the conspirators agreed to do and not what was actually obtained.

The other offenses were overt acts carried out during the conspiracy, which began on Oct. 24 2015 and ended when the five were arrested on Nov. 3.

The arrests occurred after an ATM retained some of the cloned cards and CNB employees checked closed circuit television, where they saw images of two persons who had used the cards. One of the employees saw the two people on the street the next day and followed them.

Between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3, there were 399 attempts to obtain cash from ATMs by using U.K. store cards or gift cards that had the appearance of credit cards; each contained a magnetic strip onto which genuine customer information had been transferred.

As Crown counsel Toyin Salako explained earlier in the week, most of the attempts to use the cards were not successful; however the group did obtain totals of $16,675 from Cayman National Bank and $1,800 from Butterfield Bank. Had they been successful they would have obtained in excess of $125,000, she submitted.

“The conspiracy was well organized and sophisticated,” Justice Malcolm said. “The conspirators had with them details of a large number of bank and credit cards and the facility to clone other cards with that data.

“The five defendants were brought by circuitous routes to the Cayman Islands,” he pointed out. “It is inconceivable that those directing this conspiracy would include people who had no idea what was going to happen until after they had arrived, which is what was claimed by some of the defendants. There is insufficient evidence as to who was directing the defendants here in Cayman, but I am satisfied that each defendant arrived knowing what the purpose of the conspiracy was and played a full part in carrying it out.”

The judge also responded to Ms. Salako’s submission that the conspirators had deliberately targeted Cayman “on the basis of vulnerability of the Cayman Islands banking system.” He said, “I do not consider that the Cayman Islands banks can come under the definition of ‘vulnerable’ due to a failure in their ATM security. However, this type of crime does have a considerable detrimental effect on the banks themselves and those whose cards have been cloned, so I consider there is ‘medium impact.’”

In his judgment, the appropriate sentence for the conspiracy was three and a half years before he considered aggravating or mitigating factors. Justice Malcolm said he was not distinguishing between the defendants as to their roles. Sentences for any other offenses were made to run concurrently.

The first defendant on island was Nytia Tynea Bradley, 26, an American. She arrived on Oct. 25 from New York. The judge noted it was her phone that had been used to receive directions and advice from persons unknown while the conspiracy continued. She had no previous convictions. Justice Malcolm put her sentence at 33 months, but gave her one-third credit for her guilty plea, resulting in a prison term of 22 months.

Ayoub Cheaaibi, 22, a British national, arrived on Oct. 30. He shared a room at the Treasure Island Resort with Bradley. He had no previous convictions, but had absconded from the U.K. on a drug charge. Justice Malcolm started his sentence at three years, reducing it to two years for the guilty plea.

The other three defendants are Romanian nationals who arrived on the same flight from Jamaica on Oct. 30. Their luggage had been searched for any item that might be used to commit credit card fraud, but nothing was found. They also stayed at Treasure Island. All three had said they came to Cayman after borrowing money in Romania and being unable to pay it back.

Ovidui-Giulian Dobrea, 40, had no previous convictions. In view of no evidence of bad character, the judge made his starting point 33 months and gave him the one-third discount for the guilty plea, with the result being 22 months.

Ionut-Catalin Petcu, 27, had convictions in the U.K., France and Italy. His starting point was three years nine months. With discount for pleas, his sentence was set at two and a half years.

Marius-Ioan Bud-Popa, 42, had convictions relevant to the current offenses. His starting point was also 45 months, reduced to 30 months for the guilty plea.

Justice Malcolm ordered the destruction of all items used in the course of the offenses. He said money seized could be used as compensation: CI$12,322 to CNB and US$1,202 to Butterfield. He recommended deportation for the defendants after they have served their sentences.