U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage set sentencing for Jan. 21 and Pease said Bensalem faces a likely 51- to 63-month no-parole prison term under federal sentencing guidelines.
After serving his prison term, Bensalem will be deported, Pease said. Pease said Bensalem entered the country on a tourist visa in July 1999. When he was arrested in June, Bensalem had a bogus U.S. passport, with his photo, in the name Murrey Alwahid Avant.
Bensalem and another Tunisian national, Anis Kalthoumi, 28, of Southampton, Bucks County, were arrested by authorities in a scheme in which they used a palm-sized scanning device that reads the credit information in the magnetic strip on credit cards.
Bensalem then downloaded the data onto his home computer and used a device to transfer the data onto the magnetic strip on blank credit cards. Prosecutors said he then used an embosser to imprint the raised lettering on the counterfeits.
All the equipment seized from Bensalem's apartment, Pease said, is available for purchase on the Internet.
Kalthoumi confessed to authorities immediately upon his arrest, pleaded guilty, and helped build the government's case against Bensalem. Kalthoumi awaits sentencing.
According to court documents, the investigation began May 8, when an American Express corporate-fraud investigator contacted the Secret Service in Philadelphia.
According to court documents, the American Express investigator told of stolen credit card numbers and counterfeited American Express cards that appeared to have originated at two Philadelphia restaurants: Old Philadelphia Tavern at Philadelphia International Airport and Bistro Saint Tropez in Center City.
Paul Fera owner of the Old Philadelphia Tavern, was contacted and identified Kalthoumi as a likely suspect because Kalthoumi worked part of each week tending bar at the two restaurants.
Fera also put investigators in touch with an unidentified employee at the Old Philadelphia Tavern who said Kalthoumi had asked for help cloning credit cards. Kalthoumi offered $15 for each American Express Card and $10 for each Visa or Mastercard.
The unidentified employee agreed to wear a recording device and captured Kalthoumi showing her the credit card scanning device, which he called the "mojo" and hid behind liquor bottles at the bar.
Kalthoumi led authorities to Bensalem, who Kalthoumi said had recruited him.
Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2658 or firstname.lastname@example.org.