Smooth Criminals

DA’s Office Announces Sentences for S3, Brooklyn’s Apple Store-Targeting, Family-Run Cyber Gang

Prison terms for the brothers Bilal.
applestore DA’s Office Announces Sentences for S3, Brooklyns Apple Store Targeting, Family Run Cyber Gang

(Photo: Macstories.net)

Today Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced sentencing for 16 members of a cybercrime ring based in Brooklyn calling itself “S3.” Members of the group admitted to credit card forgery and identity theft that compromised hundreds of bank accounts. Using counterfeit credit cards, they fraudulently purchased Apple products around the country and resold them for profit.

In a press release announcing the sentencing, Mr. Vance called S3 “truly a family affair.” 

“The boss, his girlfriend, and at least two of his brothers recruited others – many of them, friends – to act as shoppers at Apple stores around the country using stolen account information. The members of ‘S3’ purposely bought some of the most desirable electronic products on the market because they knew that they would be easy to resell, which is how they made their profit.”

See, fanboys, your Apple enthusiasm is fueling a life of crime.

The group’s 29-year-old leader Shaheed Bilal, aka “Sha,” was sentenced to four-and-a-half to nine years in state prison. His 23-year-old brother Rahim Bilal, who also goes by “Marlo” and “Starlo,” had already been sentenced to two to six years. And his 25-year-old brother Ali Bilal, aka “Ackii,” had also already been sentenced, in his case one to three years in prison. Shaheed served as a the leader, while Rahim and Ali functioned as “underbosses” and recruited shoppers. All three pled guilty to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree.

Last February, as part of the arrest operation, investigators recovered “three firearms, ammunition, and tools needed to manufacture credit cards.” The DA’s office also seized $300,000 in cash and bank account holdings. Although all 16 members of S3 have pled guilty, charges against eight of the individuals are still pending.

According to court documents, the crimes in questions took place between June 2008 and December 2010.

 . . . the defendants, who called themselves “S3,” illegally obtained personal identifying information, such as the names and credit card account numbers of identity theft victims. The defendants purchased the stolen information from online data traffickers via web-based portals, stored the credit card information in shared email accounts, and used that information to create counterfeit credit cards.

The defendants then recruited individuals to act as “shoppers,” who entered stores armed with these manufactured cards containing the shoppers’ real names, paired with stolen account information. The shoppers used the counterfeit credit cards to purchase electronic goods from Apple stores, including iPods, MacBooks, iPads, and gift cards. The Apple retail stores that the “S3” criminal organization targeted were located in New York, Florida, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Connecticut, Alabama, Oregon, Indiana, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Once purchased, the goods were then sold for cash at below retail cost to several different individuals in Brooklyn acting as “fences.” In turn, the fences would then resell the illegally obtained goods at a profit.

But their operation gets even more intricate. In May, 2010, Shaheed was actually running S3 from inside Rikers Island. (He was being held on an unrelated charge.)

How did he manage that? A twist on the ole adage about a good woman behind every good man. Shaheed’s 25-year-old girlfriend Ophelia Alleyne, aka Philly, assisted him while he was in Rikers. Last year she was sentenced to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree and four to 12 years in prison. But it wasn’t until after Shaheed was released from jail that investigators found a new email account–rightbackonit@yahoo.com–that he was using to purchase and share credit card data.

In hindsight, perhaps a less pointed email handle might go over better with the authorities.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that District Attorney Cyrus Vance was responsible for the sentencing. 

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com

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