-- A Miami couple has been charged in a $2 million credit card fraud and identity theft scheme -- mainly targeting seniors -- which they allegedly used to go on designer shopping sprees and luxury vacations, the Manhattan District Attorney's office announced Tuesday.
Patricia Perez-Gonzalez, 26, and Alberto Companioni, 31, were indicted in Manhattan Supreme Court on March 18 and were each charged with felony second, third and fourth-degree grand larceny, felony first- and second-degree identity Theft, and Petit Larceny, a misdemeanor, according to the indictment.
“While the victims were rebuilding their credit and their financial lives, our defendants were traveling around the entire country living it up, living large in resorts and high end restaurants, purchasing high end merchandise,” said Steven Schrank, deputy special agent-in-charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said the couple "spared no expense while enjoying the use" of the credit cards, which were opened in victims' names and inflicted damage on their credit.
“The scope of the alleged fraud required the defendants and their co-conspirators to construct a network using stolen information to circumvent typical safeguards intended to prevent fraud, such as chip-enabled credit cards,” Vance said.
More than 40 victims across the U.S. were affected in the luxury identity theft ring, said Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York.
Between December 2014 and January 2016, Companioni and Perez-Gonzalez allegedly used American Express credit cards with chip technology. The accounts were opened using stolen personal information, primarily from senior citizens, and the couple spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on vacations, designer merchandise, luxury vehicles and other expenses, according to the DA's office.
Once the accounts were opened, the American Express cards were shipped to various locations across the U.S., often vacant homes and properties, and intercepted by Companioni and Perez-Gonzalez, along with co-conspirators, according to the DA.
"This method of fraud allowed the defendants to run up significant lines of credit with no intention of paying off the charges, and in many cases, victims were unaware that there were large amounts of outstanding debt linked to their names and accounts," the press release said.
Schrank described the couple as part of an "organized crew that knew that they were doing and took many steps to evade law enforcement scrutiny and scrutiny from the financial industry."
Credit card fraud has been a growing problem for years, said Schrank.
“We do increasingly find that through the use of the internet and cyber-crime, it is growing increasingly complex in recent years,” he said.
The couple allegedly used the cards to pay for trips to New York, California, Hawaii and other destinations, where they made additional charges for expensive meals, outings at popular clubs, and shopping sprees at Hermès, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and other designer stores, according to the District Attorney's office. The cards were also used to purchase high-end electronics, mostly from Apple stores to resell to buyers overseas.
In addition, Perez-Gonzalez allegedly used the cards to purchase wholesale merchandise that she resold on her retail clothing website "Le Fashion Wheels."
When searches were done at multiple Miami addresses associated with the couple, investigators found "dozens of credit cards in victims' names ... forged identification and licenses, a credit card encoder, blank credit cards, more than ten phones labeled in victims' names and merchandise purchased with the fraudulent American Express cards, including a Rolex watch, racing bikes, ski gear, Chanel bags and other designer clothing and accessories," according to the press release.
Companioni pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held on Rikers Island, NY on $500,000 bond, according to court records. His lawyer, Steven Fusfeld, is not offering a comment on his behalf at this time.
Perez-Gonzalez also pleaded not guilty and is being held on Rikers Island on $500,000 bond, court records indicate. Her court-appointed lawyer, Greg Gomez, told ABC News the family has hired alternative counsel. It is unclear who will be representing Perez-Gonzalez going forward.