Church Hill woman pleads guilty in fake credit card scheme

Matthew Lane • Dec 13, 2018 at 9:30 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 agreed to plead guilty to federal wire fraud and conspiracy charges.

Leslie Danielle Bethea was named in a 34-count sealed indictment in U.S. District Court in Greeneville earlier this year. Prosecutors charged her with 28 counts of wire fraud, aggravated identify theft, conspiracy, trafficking and unlawful possession of counterfeit credit cards.

Bethea’s trial was scheduled to begin this week, but last month she agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud. A change of plea hearing is scheduled for Feb. 4. She faces 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.

— Using an embossing machine, prosecutors say, Bethea embossed the fronts of the fake cards with the names of people who would later present the cards 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 worth of airline tickets from American Airlines. The fraud involved more than 100 different transactions for dozens of people, including Bethea.

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

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.