Boss of costumed NYC crime ring gets 9 to 18 years

NEW YORK – The leader of a crime ring that combined old-fashioned pickpocketing, modern-day identity theft and an array of costumes to steal more than $700,000 from banks was sentenced Monday to9 to 18 years in prison.

Disguising himself as aconstruction worker and doctor – complete with stethoscope – as he lurked around banks to watch his minions carry outfraudulent transactions, Arthur Franklin was the key player in a complex scheme that encompassed 15 people in two states, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office said.

Franklin, 47, didn’t speak at his sentencing. After nearly going to trial, he pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy, grandlarceny and other charges. Defense lawyer Hershel Katz said Franklin still can and plans to appealdecisions on some issues in the case, including a denial of his bid to suppress a search warrant.

“The use of pickpockets in (Franklin’s) scheme underscores the link between street criminals and cybercriminals,” Vance said in a statement.

Some conspirators stolevictims’ wallets. Thenassociates working at a Harrisburg, Pa., collection agencycovertly tapped a credit database to get victims’ Social Securitynumbers and other personalinformation, prosecutors said. Those employees no longer work for the agency, Penn Credit, said President Richard S. Templin. He declined to comment further.

Other participants used thatinformation – plus wigs, glasses and other disguises – to makethemselves look like the victims,pose as them at banks andwithdraw thousands of dollars.

While there also were othersupervisors, Franklin was thelinchpin, playing a role in each stage of the scheme: buying the stolenproperty from pickpockets,purchasing the personal data from the collection-agency conspirators, providing it to the others who would pose as victims and collecting the stolen cash from them, letting them keep a portion of it, prosecutors said.

More than 60 accounts were compromised, prosecutors said. The banks suffered the losses.

“Several members of this ring impersonated their victims bydonning wigs and dressing like them,” Vance said. “Today, many of those individuals are wearing prison jumpsuits.”

Fifteen people were charged in the case, which prosecutors unveiled in November 2009. Nine others have pleaded guilty tovarious charges. Seven of them have gotten or are expecting jail or prison time, while one got community service and another is awaiting sentencing.

Among the cases not yet resolved, one is open, threedefendants haven’t yet beenidentified and another has been identified but not found.

The probe began when a Chase bank fraud investigator, looking at surveillance video surroundingwhat appeared to be unrelated scam transactions at various branches, noticed that most were conducted by women wearingwigs and glasses,prosecutors said.