A Brazilian national pleaded guilty today in federal court in Boston to charges of ATM skimming in the Boston area and North Shore.
Helisson Benazi de Souza, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of using counterfeit access devices (debit cards); one count of possessing 15 or more counterfeit access devices (debit cards); three counts of possessing device-making equipment (ATM skimming devices); one count of illegal transactions with an access device (other persons’ debit cards); and two counts of aggravated identity theft. U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young scheduled sentencing for June 19, 2018.
Benazi de Souza was part of an ATM skimming operation in which he stole the debit card information and personal identification numbers (PIN) of legitimate bank account holders when they used their debit cards at ATMs. Skimming devices made to look like legitimate card access slots were used to record the account information on the magnetic stripes of the debit cards, while secret pinhole cameras recorded the cardholders entering their PINs on the keypads. The stolen account information was then saved on blank plastic cards, including gift cards and hotel key cards, making “clones” of the legitimate debit cards. Benazi de Souza used such cloned cards, and the corresponding PINs, to withdraw $43,000 from ATMs in the Metro Boston area in May 2017.
Benazi de Souza was arrested in May 2017, after law enforcement was alerted by a bank’s fraud investigator. The investigator discovered that someone was making a number of withdrawals that day at three ATMs in Lynn from bank accounts that the investigator knew had been compromised. When police searched Benazi de Souza’s car, they discovered thousands of dollars in cash, all in $20 bills. They also found over 200 gift cards and hotel key cards containing small stickers. Benazi de Souza admitted that the numbers written on the stickers were cardholders’ PINs.
Before the arrest, surveillance video from banks in Malden and Saugus showed an unknown man installing and removing skimming devices and pinhole cameras at the banks’ ATMs. Benazi de Souza admits to being that man.
The charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory sentence of two years in prison, up to one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of using counterfeit access devices provides for a sentence of no greater than 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. The charge of possessing 15 or more counterfeit access devices provides for a sentence of no greater than 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. The charge of possessing device-making equipment provides for sentence of no greater than 15 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. The charge of illegal transactions with an access device provides for a sentence of no greater than 15 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Stephen A. Marks, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service, Boston Field Office; and Lynn Police Chief Michael A. Mageary made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Wichers of Lelling’s Major Crimes Unit is prosecuting the case.