Ten people accused of being members of a national high-tech band of pickpockets called "Cannon to the Wiz" have been charged with conspiracy and bank fraud by federal prosecutors in Virginia in the government's first "large-scale swipe" at the Chicago-based identity-theft ring, Wired.com reported.
The group has been active since at least 2007, "marrying high-tech fraud techniques with the Dickensian art of pickpocketing," Wired.com reported.
Leonardo Darnell Zanders, 39, the alleged ringleader, and nine others have been charged. Zanders, arrested by Detroit police in April, is being held in Wayne County Jail in Detroit, Wired.com reported.
The alleged thieves are accused of stealing both ID documents and bank cards from sports fans attending games and of stealing checks from a Washington, D.C., charity fundraiser.
In April, Detroit police announced that they had seized computers, cameras and copying machines from suspects' vehicles that had allegedly been used to alter stolen identification cards. The thieves allegedly spent thousands before some of the victims even knew they'd been robbed, the Detroit News reported.
One victim, Kimberly Luna, had her wallet stolen while sitting at a table in Detroit's Hard Rock Cafe, and even though her cards were cancelled within two hours, thieves managed to rack up $1,300 in cash withdrawls and buy new iPods at Target, the News reported.
According to the feds, "Cannon to the Wiz" also used stolen personal checks to steal cash, depositing a forged check into another victim's legitimate bank account, and then withdraw the money before the bank could catch on, Wired.com reported.
The group also allegedly targeted Detroit sports fans at April's Final Four basketball games.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Donna Pendergast, an assistant attorney general in Michigan whose wallet was stolen from at Ford Field in Detroit, told local media in April, Wired.com reported. “An absolute nervous wreck. All I could think of was a house being [bought] in my name. And you would never know about that until you end up with a bill collector on your doorstep.”
Authorities began investigating Zanders in 2007 after he allegedly tried to send the stolen IDs, bank cards and personal checks of 14 victims from Virginia and Washington by FedEx, Wired.com reported.
Searches of the homes of Zanders and alleged associate Clyde Austin Gray Jr. turned up neatly packaged bundles of documents stolen from more than 100 victims, Wired.com reported.