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A plea Monday in Cabell Circuit Court closed the book on the prosecution of three individuals who faced charges in Cabell County of stealing hundreds of credit card numbers in 2014.
Ming Chen, 26, of China, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor Monday before Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson. He was sentenced to one year of probation, avoiding jail time.
As part of the plea, Chen agreed to cooperate with authorities in the prosecution of Mei Bao Lu, 30, in federal court. Chen’s co-defendants Xionfu Yang, 33, and Tianli Yang, 28, of Brooklyn, New York, received the same deals and pleaded prior to Monday.
The charges stemmed from a 2014 multi-state crime spree that ended after the Barboursville Police Department arrested the foursome at the Huntington Mall.
Authorities believe the men shopped at the mall, booked a one-night stay in downtown Huntington and returned to Barboursville to make final purchases when store officials spotted the men, leading to their arrests.
The arrests followed reports of stolen identities being used to purchase items at the mall. The victims included one local person with multiple others living in Charleston and Logan, according to Barboursville Police chief Mike Coffey.
Lu, the alleged ringleader of the scheme, was suspected of sending the other three co-defendants to work as waiters at restaurants, where they would steal credit card information that was passed on to others to buy items at Lu’s behest.
The men traveled to West Virginia from New England, where police listed Lu as a fugitive from justice in Connecticut with a federal warrant. Coffey said the charges are for conspiracy to commit bank and access fraud, along with aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. Lu is awaiting trial on those charges.
Lu and his associates are accused of racking up $53,500 in unauthorized purchases in three states. According to court documents, Lu came to the U.S. in 2008 under a request for asylum.
At the plea, Ferguson revealed Chen’s role in the crime spree.
“This means that you and someone else planned to commit a crime and at least one of you did something to carry out that crime,” he said. “I think in this case, you were driving the vehicle involved.”
Speaking through the interpreter, Chen said he only participated on his friends’ orders, but agreed he knew a crime was taking place.
Assistant prosecutor Joe Fincham argued against moving forward with the plea Monday after a new interpreter appeared in court. Fincham argued that a previous request by Ferguson said a consistent person should be used throughout each case since the three men did not fluently speak English.
Ferguson denied the request and moved forward with the sentencing.
Chen will serve his probation in North Carolina, where he is currently residing. A one-year jail term was suspended.