FL: Ten more indicted in Operation Felony Lane

Ten people have been indicted by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach. The indictment, which was unsealed today, is the the ninth installment of “Operation Felony Lane,” an ongoing investigation aimed at systematically dismantling large identity theft rings operating in the tri-county area.

Charged in today’s 21-count Indictment are defendants Janice Coachman, Latoya Robinson, Tangeline Shaffer, Leslie Fielder, Elizabeth Jarmolych, Roberta Huha, Jude Thompson, Vincent Ware, Curisha Bryant, and Shandra Thomas. The defendants are charged in a million dollar bank fraud and identity theft scheme. The charges include conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, identity theft, and access device fraud. Most defendants committed thefts and recruited others to participate in the thefts, cash forged checks, or use the stolen credit cards. Defendant Curisha Bryant, however, was a BankAtlantic teller, who had access to customers’ bank accounts and identification information, and provided information about customer accounts to Coachman, Robinson and Shaffer. Defendant Shandra Thomas worked at a title company and had access to Accurint and Equifax databases. Thomas used her employment resources to obtain Social Security numbers and Florida driver’s license numbers for the co-conspirators to use in committing bank fraud.

Defendants Coachman, 38, of North Lauderdale, Robinson, 25, of Ft. Lauderdale, Huha, 41, of Dania Beach, Thompson, 35, of Lauderhill, Ware, 21, of North Lauderdale, and Bryant, 21, of West Park, were arrested and made their initial appearances in federal court today before U.S. Magistrate Judge James M. Hopkins. The remaining defendants have not yet been arrested.

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. To date, the Felony Lane prosecutions have charged more than $10,000,000 in bank fraud at various banks and credit unions in South Florida, and elsewhere. The operation got its name from the way in which the defendants conducted the fraud, using farthest lane of the drive-in teller at local banks (which is typically the most difficult place for bank surveillance to capture their activity) to cash the stolen or forged checks. The execute the fraud , the defendants typically cashed and/or deposited forged checks at financial institutions, impersonated legitimate account holders and took over their accounts, and changed the address on the victims’ accounts to addressed they controlled, and then used the victim’s stolen credit cards at various merchants in the area specifically targeted by the group.

The “Operation Felony Lane” defendants used the same modus operandi to commit the fraud. They targeted parking lots of day care centers, gyms, cemeteries, gas stations and other places where patrons regularly left their purses and wallets inside their cars. The robberies generally involved physical force or distraction tactics to obtain the victims’ personal identification information, including driver’s licenses, Social Security cards or numbers, debit cards, credit cards, and checks. The fraudsters then used the victims’ identification and other personal information to commit bank fraud, credit card fraud, and other crimes.

According to the charges, the check-cashers, armed with stolen identification (driver’s licenses, personal identifications, Social Security cards, and credit cards), and with stolen checks provided by the lead defendants, would go to the farthest lane of the drive-in at local banks. Once at the drive-in teller, the defendants produced a check written to one of the stolen identities (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. The checks were usually for amounts ranging from $1,500 to $5,000, and multiple checks were written on each victim’s identity. The defendants were well-organized, usually traveled in groups, used counter-surveillance tactics, and used disguises, such as wigs, glasses or hair dye, when perpetrating their frauds.

If convicted of the conspiracy to commit bank fraud or substantive bank fraud charges, the defendants face a maximum statutory term of thirty (30) years’ imprisonment. The defendants also face a mandatory two (2) year consecutive sentence on each count of aggravated identity theft, and five years for identity theft.

The indictment was announced by Jeffrey Sloman, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Michael K. Fithen, Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service, Duncan Foster, Chief, Coral Springs Police Department, Al Lamberti, Sheriff, Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Franklin Adderly, Chief, Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Dan S. Giustino, Chief, Pembroke Pines Police Department, and Howard Harrison, Chief, Plantation Police Department.

Source: USAO, Southern District of Florida

Image credit: Drive-Up Teller, Aquatint Etching, by James Torlakson,
1973.

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