WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Two men behind a scheme involving items bought at Belk department stores using stolen bank account information and then sold on the black market were sentenced in federal court Tuesday.
Florida brothers Gustavo Teixeira Mendes De Almeida, 35, and Henrique Teixeira Mendes De Almeida, 30, were both sentenced to two and a half years in prison and three years of supervised release on charges of conspiracy to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Additionally, the court ordered restitution for $54,806 payable to Belk and forfeiture of the proceeds.
“Credit card fraud and identity theft crimes can place an enormous mental strain upon victims,”United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon stated. “Often times, victims are left trying to convince merchants, law enforcement and reporting agencies that they were not responsible for the offenses. These crimes also drive up costs for all law-abiding citizens. This office will continue to bring to justice those who seek to commit crimes using the identities of others.”
In December 2018, the investigation showed that security personnel for Belk Department stores became aware of a scheme whereby two men would enter one of various Belk store locations in North and South Carolina and purchase gift cards in $300 increments using credit card numbers associated with foreign banks.
The men presented identification in the form of passports from Brazil and Portugal.
The men would then go to other Belk locations and use the previously acquired gift cards to purchase large quantities of merchandise.
Among other items, the purchased merchandise often consisted of computer gaming equipment or NEST cameras.
On or about December 10, 2018, Belk security personnel in Charlotte issued a “be on the lookout” alert with respect to the two men due to the suspicious activity.
The Belk representatives at Independence Mall contacted fellow Belk security personnel at Belk’s store located near Wrightsville Beach (Belk Mayfaire) and advised them that the two suspects were in the Wilmington market.
Belk security personnel then observed one of the two men over Belk Mayfaire’s closed circuit television. One was in possession of a shopping cart filled with NEST products on the store’s second floor.
A Belk store manager spoke to the man during the checkout process.
At that time, the suspect stated that he was planning to sell the merchandise in Brazil due to the large markup on the items.
After the transaction, the suspect exited the building, but was monitored by Belk security personnel, who had already contacted the Wilmington Police Department.
Outside of the store, Belk security personnel caught up to and stopped the two men, both of whom matched the photographs of the subjects under investigation from prior video surveillance.
Shortly thereafter, officers with the Wilmington Police Department arrived and questioned the men, which turned out to be Henrique and Gustavo Almeida.
Both men were found with fake ID cards.
Additionally, a search of the vehicle driven by the brothers revealed large quantities of merchandise and receipts pertaining to known prior purchases by the two men.
Officers also found evidence that the men had been shipping the stolen equipment to their home in Coral Springs, Florida.
A search in Florida resulted in the recovery $17,000 in cash, several suspected counterfeit passports, and numerous items previously purchased at Belk stores in North Carolina.
The Almeida brothers were indicted in December of 2018, and both pleaded guilty on September 9, 2019.
This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service, Wilmington Police Department and the Kure Beach Police Department.
Assistant United States Attorney William M. Gilmore represents the United States.