More than 20 soldiers from Fort Hood are among 200 of victims ripped off by an identity theft ring in New York, law enforcement officials said.
Investigators said the criminal ring stole the personal information of the soldiers and dozens of others. The suspects then allegedly used that stolen information to open accounts and loot accounts including getting fake checks linked to home equity line of credit accounts.
Most of the military victims were serving in Iraq or Afghanistan when they had their personal information stolen, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. said.
"While identity theft is enough of a violation of someone's privacy, these individuals also targeted members of our military at Fort Hood," Donovan said.
Officials said none of the Fort Hood soldiers targeted by the ID scammers were victims during the Fort Hood shooting attack last year.
More than 30 people, many of them Nigerian immigrants now living on Staten Island, have been arrested. About half of those in custody were involved in ripping off soldiers, officials said. Others allegedly stole from citizens living and working in the U.S. Victims stretched from New York to Montana, Philadelphia to Atlanta. Some of the stolen millions is believed to have been sent overseas to Nigeria.
"With insiders stealing valuable data, the ring stole identities to establish checking accounts, credit and debit cards and lines of home equity credit," NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Police and prosecutors say 19 people were charged this week with enterprise corruption and grand larceny. They say the ringleaders encouraged members to steal mail around Staten Island, and would also obtain Social Security Information and other details about victims around the country.
Police say one soldier returned home at Christmas to find his bank account emptied. The money has been replaced. The USAA Bank - which provides banking services many military members - helped uncover the alleged scam and reported it to New York authorities. Paul Berry, a bank spokesman, said all of the soldiers have been made whole and its officials continue to help New York authorities track any suspects involved.
Prosecutors said the ring called itself "BRO" after the names of the three alleged ringleaders: Kazeem Badru, Ganiu Rilwan and Rilwan Okoronkwo. All face enterprise corruption counts which if convicted could carry up to 25 years in prison.
All of the suspects pleaded not guilty during a hearing on Staten Island Wednesday. Many were ordered held without bail. Two suspects who were released ran from NBC's cameras without comment.
additional reporting by jonathan dienst, alice mcquillan and ryan smith