California couple guilty of cross-country identity theft, credit card fraud

The second member of a two-person counterfeiting team, charged with identity theft and credit card fraud from Florida to California, pleaded guilty Wednesday in an Atlanta federal court, prosecutors said.

Elton Lee Flenaugh, 34, of Richmond, Calif., who also used the aliases of Josh Ford and Ali Waheed, will soon be sentenced on one count of possession of 15 or more counterfeit or unauthorized access devices, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, and one count of aggravated identity theft, that comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of two years, prosecutors said. Sentencing is scheduled for February.

Part of the plea agreement required Flenaugh to admit he was responsible for $200,000 to $400,000 in fraudulent charges.

Flenaugh was arrested in February 2013 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport with Deje D. Silas, 21, of San Francisco, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta.

The two, who were in a romantic relationship, came to the attention of authorities on Feb. 9, after TSA screeners in Atlanta “noticed a suspicious package in Flenaugh’s carry-on bag,” the release said.

Authorities said further inspection of the package revealed nearly 100 fraudulent credit cards hidden inside of a sealed manila envelope, which was inside an empty, potato chip bag. Thirty-three of the fraudulent cards were embossed with Silas’ name, 28 were embossed in aliases used by Flenaugh, and 21 were blank and had no name.

Before the couple could board a flight to Los Angeles they were arrested by the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, authorities said. When searched, authorities found fraudulent driver’s licenses inside Silas’ cell phone case, and inside a removable insole of one of Flenaugh’s shoes in the carry-on bag.

Flenaugh and Silas have remained in custody since their arrests.

Further investigation into the activities of Flenaugh and Silas uncovered activity that dated back to early 2012, according to the release.

The personal information of hundreds of people was used in this fraud, authorities said. The magnetic stripes on fraudulent credit cards were encoded with the debit and credit card account information of account holders at dozens of financial institutions throughout the country, but primarily at credit unions in California, Florida, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington, according to the release.

Silas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess 15 or more counterfeit or unauthorized credit cards in May. She was sentenced to three years and five months in prison in August.

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