Md. Couple Get Prison Terms for Credit Card Scam

David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2004; Page B10

A Maryland couple have been sentenced to prison and ordered to pay $183,000 in restitution for a fraud scheme in which they amassed hundreds of stolen credit card numbers and used them to buy such luxury items as plasma-screen televisions, authorities said.

U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Francis E. Fletcher, 36, to five years and three months in prison. His wife, Michele

Anne Fletcher, 31, was sentenced to four years. The Fletchers pleaded guilty in June to two counts of credit card fraud and one count of bank fraud.

In sentencing them Thursday, Bennett also required the Fletchers to serve five years of supervised re-lease after their prison terms.

They also must surrender a $400,000 Glenn Dale home, two Mercedes-Benzes, a Lexus sport-utility vehicle and a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle.

"Identity theft is a growing problem," said Vickie LeDuc, spokeswoman for Maryland U.S. Attorney Tho-mas M. DiBiagio. "The sentencing in this case is an example of our commitment to prosecute these crimes."

In their home, the Fletchers set up a veritable factory for fake credit cards, with hundreds of blank plastic cards and sophisticated machines to punch out the numbers and emboss the cards with logos and holo-grams, according to court papers. A police search of their home found hundreds of credit card numbers taken from a local store and 44 counterfeit credit cards, according to a statement of facts agreed to by prosecutors and the Fletchers as part of the guilty pleas.

Montgomery County police caught the Fletchers when they tried to purchase three $400 DVD players with a counterfeit Visa card at a

Germantown store in April 2003. Clerks became suspicious when the Fletchers handed over credit card after credit card until one of the cards worked.

Federal authorities took over the case after police searched the Fletchers' home and realized the magni-tude of the case. Between Jan. 1, 2000, and April 21, 2003, the couple used counterfeit credit cards to buy airline tickets; five large plasma-screen televisions, a John

Deere riding lawn mower and thousands of dol-lars in gift cards and other items, according to court papers.

Michele Fletcher's attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, called the sentence "very fair."

He said the Fletchers "were very emotional in court in expressing their remorse as to the harm they caused to the victims. . . . They both expressed their apologies to the institutional victims and to the individ-ual victims. They made no excuses for their conduct."

The Fletchers have four young children, Bonsib said.

The couple's Mediterranean-style home had three satellite dishes, and three luxury cars were routinely parked out front, neighbors have said. An artisan came by regularly to paint flowers and fruit on the kitchen walls.

The couple moved to the new Glenn Dale subdivision in 2001 after selling a home they had recently bought in Largo.

About the same time, stores such as Circuit City and Best Buy started noticing a pattern of identity theft in the Washington suburbs: A man wearing a baseball cap and a short woman were buying large-denomination gift certificates with phony credit cards, authorities said.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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