Two Russian nationals pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to using more than 20 counterfeit IDs to buy dozens of smartphones at discounted prices across four Southern states.
Olga Neye, 26, and Gulnara Rothwell, 25, entered into a plea agreement in U.S. District Judge Frank J. Polozola’s court on counts of conspiracy to possess and use false identification documents and aggravated identity theft.
They each face a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of seven years, as well as up to $500,000 in fines and restitution for any possible damages.
Neye and Rothwell, also known as Olga Maltseva and Gulnara Bagautdinova, were arrested by Iberville Parish Sheriff’s deputies April 1 for speeding, according to their plea agreement.
Deputies noticed the women were abnormally nervous and had discrepancies in their travel itineraries, so the deputies searched the vehicle and found 81 Apple iPhone 4S devices and 27 fake driver’s licenses, the plea agreement says. Deputies also found a card cutter, printer, laminating machine and $5,000 in U.S. currency.
The pair had obtained personal information, including names, dates of birth, addresses and Social Security numbers of at least 20 people, the plea agreement says.
Court records do not show how Neye and Rothwell obtained the personal information, but bills of information filed against the pair say they acquired it without permission.
The two bought the phones at Apple stores in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas between March and April, the bills of information say.
The pair used the counterfeit IDs to enter into numerous long-term contracts, which allowed them to buy $500 phones for $200 apiece, the bills say.
Neye and Rothwell purchased $40,500 worth of phones for about $18,000.
The federal government will keep any property seized when the women were arrested in Iberville Parish.
Neye and Rothwell said in court Wednesday they have each lived in the U.S. for at least four years. They are legal residents of New York City and can speak English.
Neye and Rothwell face possible deportation for their crimes.
“I’m not saying the government will (deport you), I’m not saying the government will not,” Polozola told them in court.
Defense attorneys for Neye and Rothwell said after Wednesday’s hearing that the pair would have to go through further hearings before deportation is even considered.
Both defense attorneys dismissed the idea that Neye and Rothwell’s actions were tied to a larger conspiracy.
“That’s absolutely absurd,” said Marci Blaize, Neye’s attorney.
Benjamin LaBranche, Rothwell’s attorney, said his client was simply making terrible mistakes.
“She’s been here for four years,” he said. “She’s never been in trouble.”
Neye and Rothwell had been held in the Iberville Parish Jail but will be held in West Baton Rouge Parish Prison until their sentencing date, which has not been set.
U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. declined specific comment on the case because sentencing is pending.