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5 Convicted In International Bank Fraud, Identification Theft Ring

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LOS ANGELES (CBS)  — Five people were convicted Friday of federal charges for their part in an international Internet-based operation that was set up to defraud American banks.

The five found guilty by a Los Angeles federal jury were among 53 defendants charged in the fall of 2009 as part of Operation “Phish Phry.” The multi-national investigation conducted in the United States and Egypt led to charges against 100 people — the largest number of defendants ever charged in a cybercrime case, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The five convicted today are set to be sentenced Oct. 31 by U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank.

With today’s verdicts, 46 people have been convicted in Los Angeles as a result of the probe, prosecutors said.

Operation Phish Phry revealed how Egyptian-based hackers obtained bank account numbers and related personal identification information from bank customers through phishing — a technique that involves sending email messages that appear to be official correspondence from banks or credit card vendors.

The United States part of the ring was directed by three people, including Nichole Michelle Merzi, who was convicted today.

The defendants found guilty today are:

– Merzi, 25, of Oceanside, who was found guilty of conspiracy, computer fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft;

– Tramond S. Davis, 21, of Las Vegas, Nevada, who was found guilty of conspiracy;

– Shontovia D. Debose, 22, of Las Vegas, who was found guilty of conspiracy;

– Anthony Donnel Fuller, 22, of Corona, who was found guilty of conspiracy and two counts of bank fraud; and

– Me Arlene Settle, 22, of Garden Grove, who was found guilty of conspiracy and two counts of bank fraud.

The jury acquitted a sixth defendant, David D. Westbrooks.

Along with Merzi, the two other leaders of the domestic arm of the scheme were Kenneth Joseph Lucas and Jonathan Preston Clark, both 26-year-old Los Angeles residents, prosecutors said.

Lucas previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, and is set to be sentenced on June 22. Clark previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bank fraud, and will be sentenced June 8.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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