ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal jury convicted a Washington, D.C. woman today on multiple charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, trafficking in unauthorized access devices, aggravated identity theft, unlawful possession of 15 or more access devices, and possession of access device-making equipment with intent to defraud.
According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Adiam Berhane, 50, carried out a fraud scheme from at least 2013 to 2016 in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area involving stolen credit card information that was used to purchase gift cards, expensive luxury goods, and other items from local retail stores. Berhane worked with multiple co-conspirators, including Keith Lemons, 55 of Clinton, Maryland; Tiffany Younger, 50 of Washington, D.C.; and an unindicted co-conspirator (UCC-1), to steal the identities of residents of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and elsewhere, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses to area retailers and financial institutions.
The conspiracy created fraudulent payment cards using credit card manufacturing equipment that investigators found in the apartment that Berhane shared with UCC-1. Berhane would obtain stolen credit card information from the internet and provide it to UCC-1, who would then manufacture the cards, which Berhane then distributed to co-conspirators for use at area stores.
Berhane played a central role in the conspiracy. She bought the stolen card information. She managed the distribution of the fraudulent payment cards. She advised Lemons and Younger on how to carry out fraud in particular stores and decided how Lemons and Younger would be compensated. As part of the scheme, items purchased with victims’ credit card information would sometimes be returned for refunds to bank accounts that Berhane controlled, including her personal account and the accounts of Caffe Aficionado, a coffee shop in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington that Berhane owned and operated with UCC-1.
In addition to fraudulently purchasing items and receiving fraudulent refund proceeds to her bank accounts, Berhane used fraudulent payment cards to purchase gift cards at retail stores which were then redeemed at her business, Caffe Aficionado. More than a third of Caffe Aficionado’s income from June 2013 to July 2016 came from a pattern of highly unusual redemptions of American Express gift cards, with the pattern beginning several months before Caffe Aficionado actually opened in approximately October 2013.
Lemons and Younger previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and are awaiting sentencing.
Berhane faces a mandatory minimum penalty of two years in prison and a maximum penalty of 196 years in prison when sentenced on March 15, 2023. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Wayne A. Jacobs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division; and Andy Penn, Arlington County Chief of Police, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga accepted the verdict.
This case was prosecuted with the assistance of the Montgomery County Police Department, the FBI Cyber Task Force, the U.S. Postal Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Secret Service, and the U.S. Capitol Police.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan S. Keim and Bibeane Metsch are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:21-cr-27.
Keith Lemons and Tiffany Younger are being prosecuted in related cases in the Eastern District of Virginia. See United States v. Keith Lemons, 1:22-cr-9-ATJ; United States v. Tiffany Younger, 1:20-cr-25-AJT.