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Couple used Navy links to steal 9K identities, officials say

February 2, 2021 GMT

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California couple used their status with the U.S. Navy to access the personal information of more than 9,000 people that they sold to be used in identity thefts, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

Marquis Asaad Hooper, 30, was stationed in Japan as a chief petty officer with the Navy’s Seventh Fleet until October 2018, when he left the Navy after 10 years. His wife, Natasha Renee Chalk, 37, was a naval reservist stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California.

The couple, who now live in Fresno County, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fresno last week on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

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In August 2018, Hooper contacted a company that stores personal information on millions of people, falsely claiming that the Seventh Fleet needed access to its database to conduct background checks on Navy personnel, according to the indictment announced Tuesday in a statement by prosecutors.

Instead, prosecutors said he added his wife and other unnamed people to the database account run by the company, which was not named in the indictment.

Over the next two and a half months, the couple searched for tens of thousands of people and obtained information on more than 9,000 people, the prosecutors said.

They sold that personal information to others in exchange for bitcoin payments of at least $160,000, according to the indictment. The recipients of the information then used it to commit identity theft, according to the charges.

Attorney Michael McKneely, who represents Hooper, said the couple accessed the database “clearly as part of the scope of their work.”

“The government’s allegations ... are obscuring the fact that basically they are alleging these two people, Hooper and Ms Chalk, accessed commercially available databases that are used by people like you and me everyday,” McKneely said.

McKneely added that “the government never met with my client to attempt to determine what that basis was” for the couple gaining access, though investigators served a search warrant in 2018.

But prosecutors said in one instance in November 2018, a man in Gilbert, Arizona, tried to withdraw money from a bank account using a fake driver’s license made with information Hooper found in the database.

Three months after the company shut down their access in December 2018, prosecutors said, the couple tried to get access again, this time using a contact who was a petty officer aboard the U.S.S. George Washington, which was docked in Newport News, Virginia.

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The contact falsely told the database company that another member of the Navy was a supply officer.

The couple then sent the contact an agreement to use the database, a fake driver’s license for the bogus supply officer, and a fake letter from the contact’s commanding officer, all with forged signatures, prosecutors alleged in the indictment.

The other two members of the Navy are not charged and are referred to in the indictment by their initials.

Chalk was arrested Monday and Hooper surrendered Tuesday. They face maximum penalties of 20 years in prison.

Assistant Federal Defender Benjamin Gerson, who appeared on Chalk’s behalf, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

Jeff Houston, a spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service that helped investigate the case with the the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security investigations, deferred to the Justice Department and the FBI for any comment.

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