Police: Identity thief's area scams netted $450,000


Published: Wednesday, March 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2006 at 10:38 p.m.
Posing as a plastic surgeon, a man bilked people and businesses in Gainesville out of about $450,000 before he was arrested, police allege.
Toan Ngoc "Sonny" Pham, 31, who is being held at the Alachua County jail, now is facing federal charges for fraud and identity theft after a grand jury returned a 22-count indictment against him Tuesday.
Gainesville Police Detective Jorge Campos described Pham as a con man who used his forged credentials as a surgeon and claims of investments in Canada to persuade others to give him loans.
In addition to the thousands of dollars Pham received in Gainesville, Campos said officers allege he committed fraud in seven other states and used personal information and the identities of more than 10 people.
"I'm sure we haven't uncovered everything that he's done," Campos said.
The indictment charges Pham with three counts of mail fraud with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison per count, six counts of bank fraud with a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison per count, six counts of aggravated identity theft that carry a consecutive, mandatory two-year consecutive prison term after conviction and sentencing for bank fraud, three counts of identity theft with a maximum 15-year prison sentence per count, and four counts of Social Security fraud that have a maximum five-year prison sentence per count.
Pham came to Gainesville in January 2005 after striking up a friendship with a University of Florida student. Once in Alachua County, he presented himself as a plastic surgeon operating out of the North Florida Regional Medical Center. Campos said Pham is not a surgeon and has no affiliation with the hospital.
Pham never tried to use the phony identity to perform any medical procedures, Campos said.
Instead, police allege he was after money and property.
In Gainesville, Campos said Pham opened numerous accounts and a nail salon called Modern Nails and Spa off SW 34th Street, received housing and furniture and bought three vehicles using his aliases, assumed identities and identification and personal information obtained from others. The business was shut down after Pham's arrest in July 2005, according to police.
Pham has been held at the jail since his arrest on state charges as well as a pending federal warrant out of Texas.
Pham primarily used the name Cardin Lee Chu, an alias cobbled from a combination of names of his identity theft victims, Campos said. Pham used a forged document that claimed a real person, whose identity he had stolen, had legally changed his name to Chu.
Campos said he believes Pham was setting up the UF student so he could steal more personal information, following a pattern police allege he used many times in the past where he would befriend people to obtain data such as Social Security numbers.
"Financial crimes are so numerous most of the local court systems don't do anything of any consequence to (people) committing financial crimes. He knows it's going to take a while to catch up with him. He was rather clever in that he knew, once things reached a certain level, he needed to just leave," said Campos. The detective believes Pham had been making plans to leave Gainesville just before he was arrested.
In July, Gainesville Police received a complaint from someone who suspected Pham was engaged in fraudulent activity after his checks were returned and marked as having insufficient funds.
Officers also found that there were pending state warrants for Pham's arrest. However, they were listed in the names of people whose identities police now say Pham stole.
Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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