ATLANTA -- Stoyno Filtshev, Plamen Atanasov, Nedyalko Palazov, and WB Wohrman have pleaded guilty in a case involving a scheme to steal the bank debit card numbers and passwords of over 4,700 individuals through the use of a skimming device the defendants connected to ATMs in the metro Atlanta area.
"Victims in this case were devastated to learn that merely by using an ATM, they had unwittingly handed over their debit card information to criminals who in turn used the information to drain their bank accounts," said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said. "The victims continue to suffer, from having to worry about what else may be done with their personal information to spending valuable time trying to clear their good names and credit. Identity theft takes many forms but always creates havoc in the lives of good people."
"Technology has forever changed the way we do business. Unfortunately, some endeavor to use those changes to their benefit and others' detriment," said Reginald G. Moore, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Atlanta Field Office. "The Secret Service, in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, will continue to actively investigate and arrest those that commit crimes that prey on unsuspecting victims."
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: From about August 2011 through January 2013, Filtshev, Wohrman, Atanasov, and Palazov, working with co-defendant Tsvetil Iliev, used illegal skimming devices to steal over $380,000 from bank customers by installing the devices at Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo automated teller machines (ATMs) in the metro Atlanta area. When a customer used the ATM with a skimming device installed, the device would electronically record the customer's debit card number and a small camera in the device would video record the ATM keyboard as the customer entered his or her password.
The defendants then downloaded the information from the device to a computer. Using a magnetic stripe card reader/writer, they re-encoded gift cards with the stolen account information. They then used the altered gift cards at ATMs to withdraw money from the victims' bank accounts.
Filtshev, 53, of Atlanta, Ga., and Atanasov, 30, of Sandy Springs, Ga., were arrested in Kennesaw, Ga., in June 2012 using re-encoded gift cards to take money from customers' accounts at a Bank of America ATM. On them and in their car, which was registered to Filtshev, they had 279 re-encoded cards. Each re-encoded card had the customer's ATM password written on the front.
On September 27, 2012, Wohrman, 36, of Tennessee, was arrested by the Gwinnett County Police Department pursuant to a federal arrest warrant for violating the terms of his federal supervised release. A search of Wohrman's vehicle at that time revealed, among other items, a skimming device and several financial transaction cards.
On December 28, 2012, Bulgarian Customs officials notified the Secret Service in Atlanta that they had identified a DHL parcel being shipped to the United States as containing illegal skimming devices. The Secret Service obtained a federal search warrant for the package, found three skimming devices, and then disabled them before returning them to the mail stream. The package went to a UPS Store in Atlanta, Ga. Wohrman and other co-conspirators were listed as authorized recipients of mail to the UPS box. On January 8, 2013, Palazov, 28, of Atlanta, Ga., came to the UPS Store and retrieved the package.
Filtshev, Wohrman, Atanasov, Iliev, and Palazov were indicted by a federal grand jury on January 22, 2013, for conspiracy, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Palazov and Iliev fled Atlanta before they were arrested. Palazov was arrested during a stopover in Munich, Germany after he boarded a plane in Mexico headed for Bulgaria. Palazov was extradited from Germany and is now in custody in Lovejoy, Ga. Iliev, 34, of Atlanta, Ga., remains a fugitive.
The investigation has identified over 4,700 bank customers whose account information was stolen by the five defendants. The defendants withdrew over $380,000 from these customers' accounts.
On December 18, 2013, Wohrman pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft. On December 27, 2013, Filtshev and Atanasov pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Palazov pleaded guilty on January 2, 2013, to one count of conspiracy, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, the access device fraud count carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, and the aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory two-year sentence. The two-year sentence for aggravated identity theft must run consecutively to any other sentence imposed. Each count also carries a fine of up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, the Court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
In a related case, on November 19, 2013, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Zira M. Bailey, 26, of Picayune, Miss., Michael J. Ellis, 35, of Atlanta, Ga., and Bryan S. Kees, 36, of Savannah, Ga., for participating in an ATM skimming operation and targeting SunTrust ATMs in metro Atlanta, Savannah, Ga., and Florida. Bailey and Ellis received mail at the UPS Store box where the skimming equipment arrived from Bulgaria. The investigation also determined that these three defendants assisted Palazov and Iliev in fleeing the United States after their indictment. An additional 500 victims are linked to Bailey, Ellis, and Kees from the SunTrust ATMs.
Sentencing for Filtshev, Atanasov, Palazov, and Wohrman is scheduled for March 26, 2014, at 2 p.m. before United States District Judge Orinda D. Evans.
This case is being investigated by Special Agents of the United States Secret Service.
Assistant United States Attorneys Stephen H. McClain and Christopher C. Bly are prosecuting the case.
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