NEW YORK (AP) – The leader of a crime ring that combined old-fashioned pickpocketing, modern-day identity theft and an array of costumes to steal more than $700,000 from banks was sentenced Monday to 9 to 18 years in prison.
Disguising himself as a construction worker and doctor _ complete with stethoscope _ as he lurked around banks to watch his minions carry out fraudulent transactions, Arthur Franklin was the key player in a complex scheme that encompassed 15 people in two states, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office said.
Franklin, 47, didn’t speak at his sentencing. After nearly going to trial, he pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy, grand larceny and other charges. Defense lawyer Hershel Katz said Franklin still can and plans to appeal decisions on some issues in the case, including a denial of his bid to suppress a search warrant.
“The use of pickpockets in (Franklin’s) scheme underscores the link between street criminals and cybercriminals,” Vance said in a statement.
Some conspirators stole victims’ wallets. Then associates working at a Harrisburg, Pa., collection agency covertly tapped a credit database to get victims’ Social Security numbers and other personal information, prosecutors said. Those employees no longer work for the agency, Penn Credit, said President Richard S. Templin. He declined to comment further.
Other participants used that information _ plus wigs, glasses and other disguises _ to make themselves look like the victims, pose as them at banks and withdraw thousands of dollars.
While there also were other supervisors, Franklin was the linchpin, playing a role in each stage of the scheme: buying the stolen property from pickpockets, purchasing the personal data from the collection-agency conspirators, providing it to the others who would pose as victims and collecting the stolen cash from them, letting them keep a portion of it, prosecutors said.
More than 60 accounts were compromised, prosecutors said. The banks suffered the losses.
“Several members of this ring impersonated their victims by donning wigs and dressing like them,” Vance said. “Today, many of those individuals are wearing prison jumpsuits.”
Fifteen people were charged in the case, which prosecutors unveiled in November 2009. Nine others have pleaded guilty to various charges. Seven of them have gotten or are expecting jail or prison time, while one got community service and another is awaiting sentencing.
Among the cases not yet resolved, one is open, three defendants haven’t yet been identified and another has been identified but not found.
The probe began when a Chase bank fraud investigator, looking at surveillance video surrounding what appeared to be unrelated scam transactions at various branches, noticed that most were conducted by women wearing wigs and glasses, prosecutors said. The bank investigator also realized that Franklin was often around at the same time, seemingly monitoring the transactions in his various guises, and the bank later determined that the victims had all reported they’d been pickpocketed or had lost their wallets, the DA’s office said.
New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Franklin planned to represent himself in a trial that went as far as jury selection last fall before Katz, who was then acting as Franklin’s legal adviser, argued that Franklin wasn’t qualified to act as his own attorney. A judge agreed, and jury selection was to begin anew, but then Franklin and prosecutors reached a plea agreement.
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