Philip Cummings
Louis Lanzano  /  AP file
Philip Cummings, seen with his sister Jean in this Nov. 2002 photo, told the court he was "very, very sorry" for his part in the scheme, which prosecutors estimated caused losses of between $50 million and $100 million.
updated 1/11/2005 8:07:51 PM ET 2005-01-12T01:07:51

A computer technician who prosecutors say touched off the largest identity theft in U.S. history was sentenced to 14 years in prison Tuesday by a judge who said the damage he caused was "almost unimaginable."

Philip A. Cummings, 35, of Cartersville, Ga., a former help-desk worker for a Long Island software company, apologized before U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels imposed the sentence in Manhattan.

The government has estimated that the identity theft scheme involved tens of thousands of victims and caused losses of between $50 million and $100 million.

Daniels said the case "emphasized how easy it is to wreak havoc on people's financial and personal lives."

He said the impact in "dollars and the number of individuals and the personal suffering and consequences for individual victims is almost unimaginable."

In September, Cummings pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and fraud in connection with identification documents.

Victim Barbara Cusumano of Port Washington, N.Y., told the judge that identity theft "really does amount to a great deal of loss by a lot of people in a lot of states."

Outside court, Cusumano, 56, said it was difficult to get the attention of law enforcement authorities when she reported $1,500 had been illegally charged to her credit card by someone in Florida who bought her personal information from Cummings.

Cusumano, who once headed an airline anti-fraud unit, said she "went crazy writing everybody" to draw attention to the loss because she feared the money might fall into the hands of drug dealers, criminals or even terrorists.

She said local police in Florida told her they would not investigate her case because the loss did not involve more than $5,000.

"One of the messages this sends is that if you stay under the threshold, you can do what you want," Cusumano said.

Eventually, a financial institution and the FBI contacted her when they realized her loss was part of a much larger case.

Stolen data sent nationwide
The scheme unfolded while Cummings worked from mid-1999 through August 2000 as a help-desk worker at Teledata Communications Inc., a Long Island computer software company that provides banks with computerized access to credit information databases.

The government said Cummings agreed to sell to an unidentified coconspirator the passwords and codes for downloading consumer credit reports. Tens of thousands of credit reports were stolen using passwords from companies, prosecutors said.

According to court documents, Cummings was paid roughly $30 for each stolen report. The information was passed on to at least 20 individuals who then set out to make money from the information, feeding a network of criminals nationwide.

At sentencing, Cummings cried when a childhood friend, Patrick Fagan, told the judge he was "not an evil person."

"I'm very, very sorry for my conduct," Cummings told the court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcus A. Asner told the judge that many of the victims were reimbursed by credit card companies and financial institutions but still feel emotionally damaged.

Cusumano said she is hesitant to give out too much personal information. "We get paranoid," she said, speaking of those who suffer identity theft.

Cummings, who maintains he needs a heart transplant, asked for leniency because of his health problems. Daniels declined, saying the crime was too serious.

The defendant, who is free on bail, must report to prison on March 9. Restitution will be ordered at a later date.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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