Hawkins woman gets two years in fake credit card scheme

Matthew Lane • Oct 29, 2019 at 7:00 PM

GREENEVILLE — A Church Hill woman who made fake credit and debit cards, then used them to purchase $48,000 in airline tickets for herself and dozens of other people, has been sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Leslie Danielle Bethea received the 24 month sentence last month in U.S. District Court in Greeneville. In addition to the prison sentence, Bethea was ordered to pay more than $85,000 in restitution.

Bethea was named in a 34-count sealed indictment last year, with prosecutors charging her with 28 counts of wire fraud, aggravated identify theft, conspiracy, trafficking and unlawful possession of counterfeit credit cards.

She pleaded guilty last December to one count each of wire fraud and conspiracy, facing up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Prosecutors say that from January 2016 through January 2018, Bethea stole the personal information of various people, made fake credit and debit cards and used them to make purchases at American Airlines, retail stores and restaurants.

The indictment outlines the alleged scheme as follows:

— Bethea purchased blank plastic credit and debit cards with embedded magnetic strips from the Internet.

— She then illegally obtained personal information (names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers) from various people.

— Prosecutors say Bethea used an embossing machine to stamp the fronts of the fake cards with the names of people who would later present them to merchants.

— The magnetic strips on the reverse side of the cards were then re-coded with legitimate card numbers.

This allowed Bethea and others to make credit and debit cards that were not immediately rejected by merchants, the indictment states.

In 2017, from January to May, Bethea used the fake cards to purchase $48,000 in airline tickets from American Airlines. The fraud involved more than 100 transactions for dozens of people, including Bethea, prosecutors say.

The flights to more than a dozen major cities were arranged through various travel websites.

Prosecutors say Bethea also obtained information from numerous legitimate Morgan Chase bank customers, using it in dozens of transactions to buy $7,900 in goods and services. Merchants included hotels, restaurants, retail and furniture stores and service businesses, like travel and nails.

Finally — according to the plea agreement — Bethea filed false income tax returns with the IRS in 2016 and 2017, claiming $35,700 in fraudulent returns.