Friday The 13th: Unlucky For Fraudsters, Lucky For Potential Victims

Those that are superstitious often view Friday the 13th as an unlucky day. This past friday, January 13th, members of an identity theft ring received some unlucky news when they were sentenced to prison. Contrary to superstition, this was a very lucky day for future victims that could have fallen into their web of lies and deceit.

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Two men, Richard Gaylon Conaster and Geoffrey Michael Wentzel, along with other conspirators were sentenced to prison after using personal information of dozens of victims to obtain fraudulent credit cards. Conaster and Wentzel both previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft and were charged with 124 and 65 months without parole, respectively.

Officers with the Houston Police Department (HPD) arrested Conatser and Wentzel at Wentzel’s home in October of 2010. Officers had recognized Conatser from the surveillance video of a Best Buy, where items had been purchased using a credit card obtained in the name of a victim.

At the home, police seized multiple laptop computers, flash drives, laminating machines, credit card magnet readers and other equipment used to make fraudulent forms of identification. Police also discovered the personal identification information of dozens of victims on the laptop computer and in credit applications from Kingwood Air Conditioning & Heating, which were also seized during a search of Wentzel’s house. Wentzel is a former employee of Kingwood Air Conditioning & Heating.

Conatser and Wentzel used the personal information and fraudulent forms of identification to open credit accounts in the names of at least 45 different individuals at more than a dozen different retail stores in the Houston and Dallas areas, including Kohls, Sears, Dillard’s, Home Depot and Bass Pro Shops.

After being approved for credit in the victims’ names, Conatser, Bird and other conspirators purchased thousands of dollars of merchandise, often being captured on video surveillance in the process. In some cases, Conatser then sold the fraudulently-purchased items to Wentzel, who in turn sold the items within days using his eBay account.

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Law enforcement agents connected Conatser and Wentzel to Bird, who was previously arrested in July of 2010, during a traffic stop in Coppell, Texas. Police in Coppell discovered several items related to identity theft in Bird’s vehicle and a hotel room where Bird and other conspirators were staying. Among the items discovered by police were fraudulent identifications and other person information belonging to victims whose information was later discovered at Wentzel’s home.

In addition to their sentences, the two men were ordered to serve supervised release terms of three years following their release from federal prison. They were also ordered to pay restitution to victims totaling $142,197.88 – Source.

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