A California jewelry store owner was sentenced Monday to three years probation and community service after previously confessing to stealing the identities of active-duty Marines from Camp Pendleton.
Ramil Abalkhad, 53, also paid $55,000 in restitution — an amount agreed upon by the prosecution and the defense — which will be distributed to the victims at a later time.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports Abalkhad, who owned the now-closed Romano’s Jewelry, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit identity theft and two counts of identity theft with intent to defraud. All of the charges are felonies.
According to the original criminal complaint, between 2010 and 2012, Abalkhad instructed jewelry store manager Carlos Torres and employee Nellie Cha Noland Torres to obtain the personal financial information of Marine customers and then add unauthorized charges on their store credit accounts, NBC San Diego reports.
Torres and Noland pleaded guilty in the case last year and agreed to be cooperating witnesses against Abalkhad.
They are scheduled for sentencing in March.
As part of Abalkhad’s plea agreement, with his paid restitution before Monday’s sentencing hearing he avoids serving time behind bars, according to San Diego Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas. The money, she said, will be distributed to at least 70 victims impacted by the identity theft.
Darvas asked Vista Superior Court Judge Carlos Armour to sentence the Abalkhad to a year in jail, but the judge denied that request.
“He is a sophisticated financial criminal,” Darvas argued.
Abalkhad and his employees weren’t the only perpetrators involved in the thefts. A Marine at the time acted as an accomplice in the complex scheme.
NBC San Diego reports the original 2012 Marine Corps investigation revealed a Marine at the time provided personal financial information belonging to military members to the jewelry store in exchange for money, jewelry and a clean balance on his Romano’s store credit account.
According to the criminal complaint, Romano’s employees would provide the former Marine, Kymani Tate, with Social Security Numbers of military members who had store credit accounts with Romano’s. Tate would then find the corresponding DFAS MyPay accounts associated with those numbers and reset the passwords or pins.
With the new pins, NBC San Diego reports, Romano’s employees would access victims’ MyPay accounts and add unauthorized charges.
Young Marines from Camp Pendleton were victimized and “tricked” into signing paperwork, which was then used to apply for credit on their behalf.
Navy Spokesman Brian O’Rourke said he sent the news story to his command master chief, who then sent it to every command master chief in the San Diego area. They, in turn, have warned all sailors under them.
“Your story shined a light on a problem we weren’t aware existed,” said O’Rourke.
“This is what we need. These kinds of stories we need to be telling our sailors about: warnings.”
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