In December 2005, Detective Byron Pierce of the Overland Park, Kansas Police Department arrested two individuals for misdemeanor shoplifting at Oak Park Mall. In addition to the stolen clothing found in their possession, Detective Pierce found a handwritten note containing credit card numbers and airline ticketing information.
Detective Pierce contacted the cardholders and learned thousands of dollars worth of airline tickets had been booked using their stolen credit card information. Due to the apparent nationwide nature of the investigation, a local task force, overseen by the US Postal Inspections Service, began working on the case. The Overland Park Police Department participates in this standing task force.
Over the next several years, the investigation stemming from this minor arrest led to the discovery of numerous interrelated brokers selling airline tickets across the nation. The brokers received much of their stolen credit card information from computer hackers in Southeast Asia.
Task Force members collaborated with fraud investigators from all the major domestic airlines, travel websites, and credit card issuers in the United States in an attempt to identify the perpetrators of the airline ticket brokers.
The investigation culminated in 2010, when six federal indictments charged 38 people. The defendants were charged with participating in conspiracies to operate fraudulent markets for the sale of airline tickets purchased with stolen credit card and identity information. Several of the defendants were also charged with multiple counts of access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.
The defendants were arrested in cities across the United States, including: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oakland, New York, Miami, St. Louis, and Detroit. The majority of the defendants have since entered guilty pleas in Federal Court.
The investigation uncovered more than 10,000 credit card accounts which had been compromised, resulting in over $20 million in losses to the airlines, travel websites, and the credit card issuers. The investigation and prosecution represents the largest identity theft / credit card fraud case ever undertaken by Law Enforcement in Kansas City.
On May 25th, 2011, the US Postal Inspections Service recognized Detective Pierce and Assistant United States Attorney John Cowles for their work on this case. Detective Pierce and Mr. Cowles received the CHIEF POSTAL INSPECTOR’S AWARD, which is the highest award the Postal Inspections Service bestows. The lead Postal Inspector on this case, Steve Ryan, was also recognized for his work. Deputy Chief Inspector Greg Campbell flew in from Washington DC to present the awards.
Shown from left to right are Detective Byron Pierce, Assistant United States Attorney John Cowles, and the lead Postal Inspector on this case, Steve Ryan.