Leader of credit-fraud ring sent to prison

SAN DIEGO — The leader of a credit-fraud ring that stole personal financial data from dozens of San Diego residents and used it to buy more than $70,000 worth of merchandise was sentenced Friday in federal court to more than four years in prison.

While handing down the 51-month custody term to 29-year-old Daniel Stephen Wray, U.S. District Judge John Houston also ordered him to pay nearly $76,500 in restitution to his victims.

Wray pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to use counterfeit credit cards.

According to court documents, Wray recruited co-conspirators in late 2016, provided them with fraudulent credit cards and drove them to San Diego- area retail businesses to make illicit purchases.

Investigators said they believed Wray and his accomplices stole personal data from many of the victims via a credit card “skimmer” — a device that reads and records account information — surreptitiously planted at a La Jolla gas station.

After creating bogus credit cards with the filched data, the thieves used them to buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from San Diego retailers, including Costco and Smart & Final.

Wray admitted to his role as leader of the scheme, acknowledging that he obtained dozens of counterfeit and unauthorized cards and then directed his associates to use them to buy such expensive items as Apple iPads, luxury wristwatches, gold and silver, as well as significant quantities of liquor and energy drinks.

Soon after getting the stolen property, Wray would sell it on the black market, according to prosecutors.

Wray, a San Diego resident, also admitted to previously having been convicted of illegally possessing 269 counterfeit credit cards in 2014.

Wray was on supervised release for his prior conviction when he committed the more recent crimes, and recruited his accomplices from a halfway house where he was serving his supervised release term, according to court documents.

While sentencing Wray Friday morning, Houston pointed out Wray’s lengthy and serious prior criminal record, his aggravated role in the offense and the effects of identity theft, calling it a crime that “destroys lives.”

Perpetrators of such schemes “cannot victimize citizens of our district with impunity,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said.

“To anyone who considers credit card fraud a quick and easy payday, this office will investigate and prosecute you, and you will face the consequences,” Braverman said.