WOODMERE, Ohio (WJW) – Former Woodmere Mayor Charles Smith Jr. was sentenced Thursday in Federal Court to 33 months in prison for aggravated identity theft connected to the dark web.
The 52-year-old, who served two terms as mayor and was previously a Florida Marlins MLB pitcher, had already pleaded guilty to the charges and was also ordered to pay over $10,600 in restitution.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, Smith “purchased more than 600 stolen debit and credit card accounts from the dark web, affecting victims in 25 states.”
It happened after Smith left office and had begun driving a delivery truck for Amazon.
They say he used “device making equipment” and a “reader encoder/writer program” to make reproduced credit cards with over 100 of the stolen accounts.
He then used the fraudulent credit cards to purchase over $10,600 in gasoline for his delivery truck.
“There seems to be some other stuff happening in the back story that there was a real fall from grace for him, but it is not that surprising given the ease by which you can do this,” said Case Western Reserve University School of Law Senior Instructor Michael Benza, MA, JD.
Benza says everything from drugs to gambling, prostitution and especially identity theft is thriving on the dark web.
“There are people out there who will collect troves of information about people and then sell it,” said Benza, “Once you’ve got that, off you go.”
It’s unclear what motivated Smith as cameras were not permitted inside of the federal courtroom and he has not spoken publicly about the charges.
But Benza says it should serve as a warning to everyone.
“The major thing is to pay attention to how you’re connecting to the internet. There could be someone sitting right next to you capturing your information,” he said.
He recommends always using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, for added security, and never conducting financial transactions over public WiFi.
“If you can’t, then use cell service which gives you an extra level of protection,” Benza said.
It’s to protect yourself from financial predators who sometimes are also people you once trusted, like Smith who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.