U.S. authorities cracked an identity theft ring on Thursday whose targets included billionaires from the Forbes magazine ranking of the richest 400 Americans, the Manhattan District Attorney's office said.
Among the targets of the scheme named by prosecutors were Anthony Pritzker, president of Trans Union Credit and No. 160 on the Forbes 2006 list with an estimated fortune of $2 billion, and Texas billionaire Charles J. Wyly Jr, whose brother Samuel is ranked 354 by Forbes.
Five men were charged on Thursday in New York, Michigan, Texas, Florida and Kentucky with stealing $1.5 million and attempting to steal another $10.7 million from their victims financial accounts.
The accused ringleader, Igor Klopov, 24, targeted the home equity line of credit accounts of people who owned expensive properties and whose lines of credit were large. He accessed personal information on the Internet from his home in Moscow.
Prosecutors said Klopov posed as the elderly Wyly to obtain a copy of his checkbook and then tried to buy $7 million worth of gold. He was arrested in May after meeting with an undercover agent to retrieve the gold.
Klopov recruited his accomplices using the popular job hunting websites Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com and then provided his recruits with fake identification and documents.
"Many of us have always dreamt of getting a second identity," Klopov's advertisement said.
The recruits were rewarded with stays in five-star hotels and town car limo services, which Klopov paid for using stolen credit card numbers, prosecutors said.
The five men charged face 25 years in prison if convicted, Reuters reports.
In December 2005, prosecutors said, Klopov was able to order the sale of $1 million of stock held by a couple in California, then persuade the brokerage to wire the proceeds to his bank account by having an accomplice hand-deliver a forged authorization letter. In other cases, they said, the co-conspirators were turned away from banks after seeking to withdraw hundreds of thousands of dollars from victims' accounts using fake identifications and doctored documents.
The scheme began to unravel last November, when a Westchester County gold dealer contacted Wyly's bank about the $7 million check. Wyly denied writing it.
Undercover investigators posing as accomplices contacted Klopov and convinced him the transaction had gone through. Authorities 'even arranged to have a picture of (an undercover) taken with the gold bars, which was e-mailed to Klopov as proof of purchase,' Kindler said.
In May, Klopov agreed to come to the United States to retrieve the gold, prosecutors said.
The undercover officers met him in the Dominican Republic and flew with him by private jet to New York, where he was arrested, the AP reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik