LAWFUEL – The Law Newswire – R. Alexander Acosta, United S…

LAWFUEL – The Law Newswire – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, William T. Simms, Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service, Duncan Foster, Chief, Coral Springs Police Department, Larry Schroeder, Chief, Delray Beach Police Department, and Ken Jenne, Broward County Sheriff, announced that U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno sentenced six defendants on April 18, 2007, in “Operation Felony Lane,” including defendant Shameca Walters, who was sentenced to nine (9) years imprisonment. The investigation was aimed at systematically dismantling large scale identity theft rings operating in the tri-county area. The defendants were charged in multi-million dollar bank fraud and identity theft schemes.

Walters, the leader of the conspiracy, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and identity theft, and was sentenced to 108 months imprisonment for her role in the offense. She also was sentenced to five (5) years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $962,000 in restitution. Theresa Howard Mason was sentenced to thirty (30) months imprisonment, to be followed by five (5) years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $62,000 in restitution. Jerri Marini was sentenced to thirty (30) months imprisonment to be followed by five (5) years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $275,000 in restitution. Anita Proby was sentenced to eighteen (18) months imprisonment, five (5) years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $146,000 in restitution. Edith Baker was sentenced to one (1) year an one (1) day imprisonment, five (5) years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $149,000 in restitution. Diana Leathers was sentenced to five (5) years probation, including six (6) months of house arrest, and ordered to pay $24,000 in restitution. Three co-defendants have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

Since November 2004, numerous law enforcement agencies in the tri-county area of Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade Counties, under the direction of the U.S. Secret Service’s South Florida Organized Fraud Task Force, have been investigating organized criminal groups engaged in identity theft and fraud. The defendants often targeted parking lots of facilities such as day care centers, gyms, cemeteries, and other places where patrons regularly leave their purses and wallets in their cars. These robberies generally involved physical force or used distraction methodologies in order to obtain the personal identification information of the victims, including driver’s licenses, Social Security cards or numbers, debit cards, credit cards, and checks. These criminal groups then used the victims’ identification and other personal information to commit bank fraud, credit card fraud, and other crimes.

This investigation was named “Operation Felony Lane” due to the method in which the fraud was conducted. This fraud typically consisted of activity such as cashing and/or depositing forged checks at financial institutions; bank account takeovers where the defendants impersonated the legitimate account holder either in person or by phone; changing the address on the victim’s account and then perpetrating fraud on the account; as well as using the victim’s stolen credit cards at various merchants in the area specifically targeted by the group.

Armed with stolen identification (Florida Driver’s Licenses, ID’s, Social Security Cards, credit cards), and with stolen checks, provided by the defendants would go to the farthest lane of the drive-in teller at local banks, which is the most difficult place for bank surveillance to view their activity (hence, the name “Felony Lane”). Once at the drive-in teller, the suspects produced a check written to one of the stolen identities (an identity for which they had false identification) and cashed the check. The payee on the check and the false identification was often in the name of an individual who was a previous victim of a home burglary, vehicle break-in, purse snatching or strong armed robbery, where their identities were stolen. The bank account was often a business account that had suffered a theft and had sufficient funds in their accounts to process the checks. These checks are normally written for amounts from $1,500 to $5,000 each and multiple checks are written on each victim’s identity. The suspects were well organized, usually traveled in groups and used counter-surveillance tactics, communicated by cell phone, and used disguises such as wigs, glasses or hair dye when perpetrating their frauds.

Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the United States Secret Service’s South Florida Organized Fraud Task Force which includes the outstanding assistance provided by the Coral Springs Police Department, Broward Sheriff’s Office, Delray Beach Police Department, and Boca Raton Police Department. In addition, Mr. Acosta commended the efforts and support of all of the banks and credit unions involved in this investigation including Bank of America, Wachovia Bank, First National Bank and Trust, Capital One, Washington Mutual, Grand Bank and Trust, Fidelity Federal, Colonial Bank, Marine Bank and Trust, BankAtlantic, AmTrust, Union Planters Bank, Commercial Bank of Florida, and SunTrust. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Bardfeld.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov/ or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov/.

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