LAS VEGAS -- The government's star witness in a Las Vegas cybercrime trial told jurors he sold phony identification documents as an undercover agent to learn the real identities of individuals suspected of trafficking in fake IDs and credit cards.
Homeland Security Agent Michael Adams testified Tuesday in federal court that when he was with the Secret Service he became a vendor to infiltrate the Carder.su organization. Fifty-five alleged members of the organization were indicted on charges that they engaged in racketeering through the trafficking of stolen personal information and selling of phony IDs and credit cards.
The defendant at the federal court trial before U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon is alleged Carder.su member David Camez of Phoenix. The Russian-led but Las Vegas-based organization, which ran a website that members allegedly used to transact illicit business, has been accused by the Justice Department of causing tens of millions of dollars worth of fraud.
Adams, who earned a criminal justice degree at UNLV, told jurors that he initially went undercover into the world of counterfeit ID production after an individual was arrested for using phony credit cards at a Whole Foods grocery store in Henderson. That individual eventually cooperated with the Secret Service, giving Adams entree in 2007 into another suspected identity theft organization that the government closed down.
After that organization went out of business, Adams said he and other members of that outfit joined a forerunner of Carder.su in late 2007. Adams up to then had only posed as a buyer of fake IDs but testified that he became a vendor in April 2008.
"I chose to sell counterfeit documents," Adams testified. "It generated significant investigative lead potential."
Adams said the goal was to get Carder.su members interested in fake IDs to send him their photos, e-mail addresses and addresses where they wanted the phony identification documents to be shipped. Since many members paid through Western Union services, Adams said the Secret Service also hoped to obtain surveillance of Carder.su members as they paid for their items at Western Union offices.
He also testified that he charged as much as $300 for each fake ID, roughly triple the cost of lower-quality fakes. The reasoning, he said, is that the Secret Service wasn't interested in going after college students seeking fake IDs to purchase alcohol. Rather, the goal was to go after the more serious criminal, Adams testified.
"We felt that would cut out people who weren't serious," Adams said of his high prices.
Adams also described the hierarchy he said Carder.su employed on its website, allegedly headed by Russian Roman Zolotarev. Though indicted, Zolotarev -- using the website moniker "Admin" -- hasn't been arrested because the United States doesn't have an extradition treaty with Russia, Adams said. But he said the U.S. government has been trying to get cooperation from the international police organization Interpol to bring Zolotarev to justice.
Jurors also heard from Douglas Whiteside, who is employed by MasterCard in its customer security group in St. Louis.
Based on a government subpeona that contained a series of allegedly fraudulent credit card accounts linked to the Carder.su investigation, Whiteside testified that MasterCard estimated those accounts caused nearly $15.5 million in fraud through 88,054 transactions from 2005 through last month. The losses were absorbed by banks globally that issue MasterCards, with 77 percent of the losses coming from financial institutions based in the United States.
Whiteside said Nevada banks suffered $145,154 in losses through 490 fraudulent transactions involving those accounts. He also said the most popular items purchased through those global transactions were products related to Microsoft Xbox Live, which he said accounted for $433,183 in losses.
The trial is scheduled to continue on Wednesday.