Online Identity Theft Ring Out of the 'Shadows'

The man who administered and co-founded what federal law enforcement officials described as one of the largest illegal online centers that trafficked in hundreds of thousands of stolen credit card numbers was sentenced Thursday to 32 months in prison.

Appearing in federal court in Newark, N.J., Andrew Mantovani, 24, expressed regret for his actions before U.S. District Judge William Martini handed down the sentence.

"I apologize to anyone directly or indirectly affected by my actions," Mantovani said, his voice cracking at times. "I'm sorry."

Mantovani pleaded guilty in November 2005 to being the ringleader and co-founder of the Web site, an online marketplace where people could buy and sell stolen identity information along with stolen credit- and debit-card numbers.

He admitted to using online scams such as "phishing" and spamming to obtain personal financial information about other people and then used that information illegally to purchase merchandise online. He also admitted to collecting 18 million e-mail accounts with identifying information, such as user names and passwords.

During the sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Dowd called the group a secret criminal society. Members of the Shadowcrew were indicted in October 2004 for trafficking in at least 1.5 million stolen credit and debit cards and causing losses of more than $4 million.

Bringing Down the Shadowcrew

Federal and local authorities led by the U.S. Secret Service shut down the group after a year-long investigation dubbed Operation Firewall.

During the investigation, officials used old-fashioned techniques like wiretaps and an undercover informant, as well as high-tech tools such as the creation of an online virtual private network that was then made available to Shadowcrew members to track their criminal activity.

Twenty-one people were simultaneously arrested throughout the country on October 26, 2004, when authorities acted to shut down the Web site. Eighteen people have since pleaded guilty, while one is currently a fugitive.

Sentences for those who have pleaded guilty have ranged from three years' probation to Montavani's sentence of 2½ years in prison. The Long Island, N.Y,. native will also have to pay a $5,000 fine and serve three years of probation.

"I have spent the last two years thinking about the mistakes I made and I wish I could change them," Mantovani said before the judge made his ruling.

Martini told Mantovani, "I have been troubled by this case," and added that it was important to send a "strong statement" to deter others from copying Mantovani's actions.

"Clearly, you are the most culpable of the people I have seen so far," Martini said.

Despite the prison term, Mantovani's attorney, Pasquale Giannetta, said after the hearing that the sentence was "tremendous."

He said he and his client had anticipated a longer prison term and credited the lesser sentence to the 40 letters from friends and family submitted to the judge, as well as a seven-minute videotape prepared by Mantovani. The tape consisted of interviews with Mantovani and his family attesting to his good character and upbringing.

"I think the videotape was a major factor in lowering it," said Giannetta, referring to the length of time in prison.

Prosecuting attorney O'Dowd had no comment on the sentence citing pending court hearings for other members of Shadowcrew who have pleaded guilty.