IDENTITY THEFT RING BUSTED
Thursday, March 25, 2010 — Hundreds of people from across the nation were victimized in a year-long identity theft scam which saw the Chicago-based instigators charging more than $300,000 in more than 500 transactions to purchase jewelry, furniture, household goods, appliances and electronics, then selling all of it to friends and relatives for a cash profit, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced Thursday.
As of early Thursday afternoon, seven people involved in the scheme were in custody and will appear in bond court today, three more are wanted on felony warrants and at least six other people of interest are known to be fleeing investigators.
“The key people involved in this scheme took advantage of anyone they could – from victims who had no idea to clerks who were accused of racism for questioning their credit applications,” Dart said. “They took orders before they headed out for ‘shopping trips’ and returned with thousands of dollars in merchandise. Those whose credit was being destroyed had no idea any of it was going on.”
The ring was brought down as a result of “Operation Quick Charge,” a five-month investigation headed by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office’s Financial Crimes Unit, with assistance from the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Chicago, Glenview, Matteson, Morton Grove, Vernon Hills, Oak Brook and Lake Zurich police departments.
Investigators said the ring was headed by three sisters and male friends. One of those sisters is now in custody, while the others are considered wanted fugitives.
Shikila Blount, 29, of Chicago, was arrested Wednesday at her home at 606 E. Woodland Park. Her sisters – Laqueshia Holmes, 25, of 8133 S. Emerald St., and Tijuana Leonard, 33, of 1511 E. 73rd St., are both wanted and believed to be fleeing.
Leonard got a job with The Millard Group, a janitorial service based in Lincolnwood which hires temporary labor for services. It served as a subcontractor for cleaning services at Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, located within the Galter Pavilion, 675 N. St. Clair St., Chicago
That job allowed Leonard unsupervised, after-hours access to areas where confidential patient files were stored at the offices. Specifically, a pattern developed where many victims acknowledged seeing doctors on the 19th through 21st floors of that building, investigators learned.
The investigation revealed that Leonard, while cleaning near patient files, would steal personal information, then run the information out to others. Her conspirators would then go online and either apply for credit cards or request that person’s credit report be mailed to the conspirator’s address.
Those involved in the operation would then either contact the retailer and pose as the card holder and request to be added to the account, or they would use the personal information to open accounts either online or in the store.
Once granted access to the credit line, they would immediately run up bills.
“One would hope that when a person immediately opens credit at a store, if they then immediately purchase four plasma TVs, someone might be concerned,” Dart said. “No one was.”
Among the victims are:
- A 65-year-old retiree from Des Plaines who learned he’d been victimized when he got a bill from a jewelry store in November for $5,000. In the previous two months, eight credit cards had been opened in his name, all at the Orland Square Mall in Orland Park.
- A 35-year-old Glenview man who learned in December that seven credit cards with his address had been opened in a month, with $3,420 charged to them, in the name of a co-conspirator, Selina Hayes, 18, of Chicago, who was wanted in DuPage County for ID theft.
- A 66-year-old retiree from Glenview who in November received a credit card in the mail, along with a statement for $5,700 in charges for jewelry at a jewelry store in Schaumburg.
Dart said that while nearly all retailers were cooperative when approached by investigators and their fraud units assisted, it was the retailers’ initial interactions with the culprits that allowed the scheme to thrive as long and as lucratively as it did.
“Store clerks felt pressure from those in the ring and from their own supervisors to approve credit on the spot without question,” Dart said. “It’s horribly frightening to hear how easy it is for these criminals to add their own names to victim’s accounts. Those arrested are considered innocent until proven guilty, but those impacted by these acts will be guilty until proven innocent every time they try to purchase anything on credit – from a house to a car to a blouse at a store.”
Those involved in the scheme got credit 285 times at Sears, 72 times at Victoria’s Secret, 46 times at The Room Place and 27 times at Express, among others. They were able to use personal information on victims from Los Angeles to New Jersey, Wisconsin to Florida and from Chicago and dozens of suburbs in Illinois and Indiana.
The suspects utilized the personal information very quickly and it is believed that all victims have been identified by investigators. But anyone with concerns about identity theft can contact investigators at 708-865-5188.
Shikila Blount, 29,-Chicago Organizer of a continuing financial criminal enterprise
Dorothy Brown, 20, Harvey - Continuing a financial criminal enterprise
Tangie Strickland, 18, Chicago - Felony theft
Talonda Hampton, 35, Mt. Vernon - (already incarcerated on burglary)
Shamara Bright, 22, Chicago - Felony theft
Crystal Cannon-Kariuki, 30, Chicago - Continuing a financial criminal enterprise
Eartricca Johnson, 26, Centralia, Ill. - Charges pending
Laqueshia Holmes, 25, Chicago - Four warrants for identity theft, felony theft
Tijuana Leonard, 33, Chicago - Warrant for identity theft in Wisconsin
Selina Hayes, 18, Chicago - Warrant for identity theft in DuPage County
All were arrested without incident. When investigators entered Blount’s apartment, they said it resembled a warehouse with stolen merchandise. Televisions, computers, clothing and jewelry were seized by investigators during the arrest processes.
All of those now in custody will be appearing in bond court at 26th and California today.