Three from LV part of 'phishing' case arrests

LOS ANGELES -- Authorities said Wednesday they have arrested 33 people, including three Las Vegas residents, in breaking up a crime ring in the U.S. and Egypt in which an elaborate "phishing" scam bilked bank customers out of at least $1 million.

Federal authorities said 53 people were named in an indictment, while authorities in Egypt have charged 47 others in connection with the scheme. The 33 arrests so far in the U.S. were mostly in Southern California but also in Nevada and North Carolina.

Tramond Davis, 20, and Raymond Mancillas III, 21, were arrested at their Las Vegas homes. Shontovia Debose, 21, was arrested in downtown Las Vegas as she arrived for an appointment.

All three Las Vegas defendants appeared Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Johnston, who ordered their release from custody. The judge ordered Debose to continuing living with her mother, Stephanie, who attended the hearing.

Authorities claim the leaders of the ring in the U.S. directed trusted associates, including the three Las Vegas defendants, to set up bank accounts, where the funds stolen from the compromised accounts could be deposited.

All the U.S. suspects were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, which potentially carry up to 20 years in federal prison, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wes Hsu said.

Some suspects, including alleged ringleader Kenneth Lucas, face additional charges, including bank fraud and international money laundering. Lucas was awaiting an initial court appearance Wednesday and authorities didn't know if he had been assigned a defense lawyer.

"This may sound like run-of-the-mill bank fraud but it is much more serious," said Keith Bolcar, acting assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. "This form of theft presents us with a new and elaborate form of con artist."

At the center of the scam were spam e-mails masquerading as legitimate requests from banks and asking customers to submit personal information online.

As part of the scam, millions of these "phishing" messages were sent out using automated programs, authorities said.

According to the indictment, hackers in Egypt worked with cohorts in the U.S. to collect bank account information, then illegally accessed those accounts and transferred money to newly created fraudulent accounts.

FBI Special Agent Jason Smolanoff said there were thousands of victims in the U.S. The amount of cash stolen was somewhere between $1 million to $2 million, primarily from Bank of America and Wells Fargo accounts.

Federal authorities in Los Angeles praised the cooperation they received from their Egyptian counterparts and said the indictment represented the largest identity-theft operation ever, based on the number of defendants.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Carri Geer Thevenot contributed to this report.