In early May, a Saratoga Springs man was charged with hacking into the United Airlines website and stealing travel vouchers that he then sold to other people. Ammon Cunningham was charged in 3rd District Court with various computer crimes, theft, communications fraud, and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, all second-degree felonies.
Cunningham Hacked United Airlines Website to Obtain Travel Vouchers
According to the charging documents, from approximately July 2012 through September 2012, Cunningham (who went by the alias Jacob Colvin) “unlawfully accessed (hacked) the United Airlines website and obtained Personal Identification (PIN) codes for Electronic Travel Certificates that had been assigned to United customers but had not yet been redeemed by those customers.”
Cunningham Used Vouchers for Himself or Sold Them to Others at Below Market Value
Prosecutors said that, once Cunningham obtained the travel vouchers, “He either used the ETCs for personal travel, or he sold them through various classified ad sites, including Craigslist and KSL.com.” Cunningham was alleged to have used 13 certificates for himself, valued at more than $7,800. Prosecutors also alleged that Cunningham sold some 120 vouchers to others, which were valued at more than $58,000. Prosecutors said Cunningham sold the vouchers at discounted prices, and that one couple purchased two vouchers valued at approximately $2,400 for less than $2,000, and booked a roundtrip vacation from New Jersey to Munich with the vouchers.
Cunningham Contacted United Airlines About “Massive Hole” He Found in Website Using Alias
Interestingly, in September 2012, prosecutors said that Cunningham contacted United Airlines through email using an alias, explaining to United that he had “found a massive hole in the United.com website.” Cunningham told United that he was willing to disclose to them this alleged “massive hole” he had found, but only if United would pay him $10,000 and supply him with first-class airfare to any place in the world for himself, his wife and, his child, the charges set forth.
Cunningham Pleads Guilty, Charge May be Reduced
Now, more than three months after he was charged, Cunningham has pleaded guilty to one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity as part of a plea bargain. As part of the plea deal, the other second-degree felonies of computer crimes, theft, and communications fraud were dismissed. Additionally, prosecutors have agreed to hold Cunningham’s plea in abeyance, meaning that any potential prison sentence will be stayed and the charge could be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor in one year if Cunningham is able to complete 80 hours of community service, he pays restitution, and commits no additional crimes.
In late December 2014, a woman was arrested in Summit County on allegations that she had been impersonating a Utah attorney and handling cases in court, representing actual clients under another attorney’s name. The woman, identified as Karla Carbo, then 29 and residing in South Jordan, was arrested and booked into the Summit County Jail on suspicion of felony fraud, forgery and identity theft.
Carbo Held Self Out as an Attorney, Using Real Attorney’s Bar Information
Investigators said that Carbo had held herself out as an attorney in several jurisdictions, including impersonating an attorney at least times in the six months before her arrest. Carbo was arrested within a week negotiating felony counts down to misdemeanors on behalf of her client in Summit County. In fact it was that exact plea deal that garnered the attention of the Utah Bar Association. The Bar told police that Carbo had been using a legitimate attorney’s name and bar number to represent clients without a license.
Police said that Carbo had represented to the courts that her name was Karla Stirling Fierro, but that the bar number Carbo gave as her own actually belonged to Utah attorney Karla Stirling. In an interview, Stirling said, “It’s been shocking to hear that there’s been somebody else whose doing this with my name and my bar number. I mean, who would take it that far to full-on impersonate someone and use a legitimate bar number?”
Stirling Was Completely Unaware Carbo Was Posing as Her
Stirling said that she found out about Carbo’s impersonation of her when she was contacted by the Draper City Justice Court about a pending hearing. Stirling told the court she had no idea what they were talking about, and that she did not even practice criminal law. “I said, ‘I don’t know what this is. There must be some mistake.’ And they went back and checked and said, ‘Oh no, this is no mistake,'” Stirling said.
“I don’t do any criminal work. I’ve never done any criminal work or immigration or personal injury. I’ve done business contracts, real estate,” Stirling said. “I have not done any litigation matters in Utah. There shouldn’t be any court files with my name or my bar number in Utah whatsoever.”
Soon after the court contacted Stirling, the Summit County Attorney’s Office got a call from the Utah State Bar telling them “that Fierro was not an attorney.”
Utah AG’s Office Takes Over Prosecution
In April 2015, the Utah Attorney General’s Office took over the prosecution of Carbo’s case. That meant that Summit County prosecutor’s agreed to dismiss the charges pending against Carbo there, while new charges would be filed by the State in 3rd District Court. The State charged Carbo with 12 felony counts, including one count each of second-degree felony engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity and identity fraud, along with five counts of second-degree felony communications fraud. The charges also include five counts of third-degree felony forgery, court records show.
Carbo Pleads Guilty to Felony Counts, Including UPUAA Count
In July 2015, Carbo accepted a plea deal from State prosecutors, which required her to plead guilty to second-degree felony counts of pattern of unlawful activity, identity fraud, communication fraud, and one third-degree felony count of forgery. In exchange for Carbo’s pleas, prosecutors dismissed eight other counts. As part of the plea deal, Carbo agreed to pay more than $7,000 in restitution – money she earned as legal fees for her misrepresented services. As it related to sentencing, prosecutors told Judge Keith Kelly at the plea hearing that they would be asking the court to impose a 90-day jail sentence with probation to follow that.
Carbo Sentenced to 62 Days in Jail, Ordered to Pay Restitution, and Banished From Legal Profession
At the sentencing hearing in September 2015, Judge Kelly sentenced Carbo to 62 days in jail. Judge Kelly suspended potential prison terms of up to 15 years and, per a plea agreement negotiated by attorneys, ordered her to serve 90 days in jail, but gave her credit for 28 days already served. Judge Kelly also imposed 36 months of probation, which required Carbo to complete 75 hours of community service, as well as obtain treatment to address theft issues. Carbo was also ordered to pay approximately $7,274 in restitution to five clients wo paid for her fraudulent legal services. Finally, Judge Kelly ordered that Carbo not engage in any legal-related employment.
Carbo’s attorney said of the sentence, “She understands she has harmed these people. She understands she has harmed the legal system.” “She’s a hardworking mother and she just wants to put this behind her,” her attorney added.
Carbo Victims Offered “Do-Over”
As it relates to the plea deal Carbo negotiated just prior to her arrest, Summit County attorney Matthew Bates said, “This is a very serious matter because we know of at least one person out there now who has pled guilty to a crime without having a competent attorney.” Further, Bates said that the judge in that case had sent a notice to the defendant telling him what had happened and scheduled a new court date, at which time the defendant will be allowed to be appointed a real attorney as well as withdraw his guilty plea if he wants to, and that Bates’ office would not object to a “do-over.”
“Legally, he has pretty solid grounds to withdraw his plea if he wanted to because the plea was essentially uncounseled and an uncounseled plea is a violation of the Constitution,” Bates said.
While, Carbo’s criminal matter may have been resolved, the Utah Pattern of Unlawful Activity Act(“UPUAA”) allows persons harmed by a pattern of unlawful activity to file a civil suit against the wrongdoer. That portion of the UPUAA allows a person injured through a pattern of unlawful activity to recover “twice the damages” he or she “sustains,” as well as “the costs of suit, including reasonable attorney fees” if they prevail. A civil action under the UPUAA must be commenced “within three years after the conduct prohibited by Section 76-10-1603 terminates or the cause of action accrues, whichever is later.”
Contact Our UPUAA Team Today
To date it does not appear that any of Carbo’s victims have filed suit against her under the civil prong of the UPUAA, but they still have time. If you or someone you know has been a victim of a pattern of unlawful activity, do not hesitate to call our UPUAA attorney team for a consultation. Conversely, if you have been arrested and charged with a violation of the UPUAA, which is a second-degree felony, please contact our UPUAA attorneys for a consultation as well. Our UPUAA attorneys can be reached by telephone at (801) 323-5000 or by email at Karra.Porter@chisjen.com.
Michael Anthony Vigil, the owner of Salt Lake Valley Protective Agency pled guilty to a number of charges involving the withholding of money from the State or his own employees.
Michael Anthony Vigil, the owner of Salt Lake Valley Protective Agency pled guilty to a number of charges involving the withholding of money from the State or his own employees. Mr. Vigil’s guilty plea comes even after he had fiercely defended his company’s track record. In response to a warning issued against his company in 2009, Mr. Vigil wrote:
Our employees are our true strenghts (sic) … (The claim that) people are jumping ship left and right … is absolutely not true. We have maintained most of our current staff for well over one year (remarkable for the security industry), and the key players have been the same since our conception … If anyone … wants to know the truth about Salt Lake Valley Protective Agency, and our operations, please come on by our office,” he wrote. “We have nothing to hide, and would love to show you what we mean when we say ‘Redefining Professionalism’ (the company motto).
According to a recent news report, Mr. Vigil as part of his guilty plea, has agreed to pay back his former employees $101,847 in unpaid wages and the State over $215,000 in tax withholdings he never paid.
The Attorney General’s Office alleged that Mr. Vigil’s company, Salt Lake Valley Protective Agency, engaged in a pattern or unlawful conduct whereby the company would issue paychecks to employees without properly funding that account from which the checks were to be cashed. In most instances the employees simply quit because he or she wasn’t receiving a paycheck, and in response Mr. Vigil would just hire new employees and start the scheme all over again.
At trial, the State presented evidence that over 70 of Mr. Vigil’s employees of former employees had received partial or no pay at all during the time they worked for Mr. Vigil. According to the State, Mr. Vigil also failed to timely pay tax returns and didn’t accurately account for tax returns for employee wages from 2006 through 2010. Upon this evidence, Mr. Vigil accepted the State’s plea deal, and was subsequently sentenced for ailing to render a proper tax return, a third-degree felony; tax evasion — intent to evade; unlawful deal of property by a fiduciary; theft of services; and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, the last four all second-degree felonies. However, in order to get Mr. Vigil to accept the plea, the State agreed to dismiss four counts of failing to render a proper tax return against Mr. Vigil.