[Hpn] 4 Sheriff's Deputies, 7 Workers Accused of Credit Card Scams
Thu, 25 May 2000 19:39:15 -0400
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4 Sheriff's Deputies, 7 Workers Accused of Credit Card ScamsHey Gang ,
Makes you want to report the lose of your credit cards right to these
Our police forces need watch dogs for justice because they are the breeding
grounds for crime!
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Thursday, May 25, 2000 | Print this story
4 Sheriff's Deputies, 7 Workers Accused of Credit Card Scams
Probe: They are relieved of duty after seven-month sting. All but one
are likely to face felony charges, officials say.
By BETH SHUSTER, Times Staff Writer
Eleven Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department employees,
including four deputies, were relieved of duty Wednesday pending the outcome
of an internal criminal investigation into two credit card scams, one of
which involved millions of dollars.
Sheriff's investigators, who began an undercover sting operation
seven months ago, say the deputies and custody assistants--civilians who
work in the jails--used credit cards the suspects believed were stolen to
obtain cash from automated teller machines.
Simultaneously, investigators discovered that the alleged
ringleader of the scheme also was involved in a far larger and wider credit
card fraud scam operating outside the department. Sheriff's Department
officials say they expect to make arrests in connection with that larger
ring in the days ahead.
About 150 deputies fanned out across three counties early
Wednesday morning, serving search warrants at 17 locations. Most were the
homes of employees, but some were the residences of associates believed
linked to the scheme. All of the employees were surprised by the undercover
operation, department officials said.
Dubbed "Operation Easy Money" by sheriff's officials, the
investigation involves the largest number of employees since the
department's narcotics unit scandal in the late 1980s, when more than two
dozen deputies were accused of stealing and laundering cash, among other
Sheriff Lee Baca, who plans to hold a news conference today on
the case, said he considers the allegations against the employees extremely
serious and noted that the worst corruption scandals typically begin with
seemingly minor incidents.
"The whole idea that people would hire on to the department amid
the pretext that they wanted to uphold the law and then violate it is just
totally disgusting," Baca said in an interview. "This suggests to me that I
need to continue to weed out employees who think they can engage in apparent
The case will be turned over to the district attorney's office,
which probably will convene the grand jury to consider indictments against
the sheriff's employees, sources said. The deputies and all but one of the
custody assistants are likely to face multiple felony charges, according to
the Sheriff's Department.
The deputies who were relieved of duty--and who Baca says will be
fired--are David Osorio, Richard English, Jessie Zuniga and Monica Planty.
The custody assistants are Christopher Coleman, Josephine Phillips, Michael
Habib, Tirrell Thomas, Meko Goodley, Timothy Miller and Hilary Ayers. All of
the employees except Osorio are assigned to the Twin Towers Jail; Osorio
worked at the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic.
Antuan Turner, an ex-convict who is not a Sheriff's Department
employee but is believed to be an associate of Osorio in the larger ring,
was arrested Wednesday and held in lieu of $1 million bail on suspicion of
possessing a weapon.
Investigators sorted through a large volume of evidence recovered
Wednesday that they believe will further implicate the employees.
The investigation began when the department was contacted by an
informant. From that point on, sheriff's investigators uncovered lead after
lead, which they allege suggested that Osorio was not only the ringleader of
the scam involving departmental employees, but also appeared to have been
involved in a wider, more complicated credit card scheme before joining the
department four years ago. Officials allege that Osorio was involved with
another partner who ran the larger ring, said Sgt. Michael Pippin and Lt.
Mark Milburn, the lead investigators in the case.
The department is continuing its investigation into the wider
credit card fraud ring to which Osorio allegedly belonged when he joined the
department and is seeking Osorio's alleged partner, among others.
"This investigation goes in a thousand different directions,"
Pippin said. "We have the tip of the iceberg."
Osorio allegedly amassed between $500,000 and $1 million--using
hundreds of stolen credit cards--while operating as part of the larger ring
before the Sheriff's Department's internal sting operation, investigators
believe. Osorio and his suspected partner apparently received the stolen
credit cards from several Postal Service employees with access to security
bags, investigators said. Sheriff's officials have alerted the Postal
Service to their investigation.
Others in the wider ring outside the department apparently gained
access to personal identification and Social Security numbers, as well as
other information, such as mothers' maiden names, by posing as credit card
company employees or by pretending to be the person named on a stolen card.
They also would seek increases in the stolen cards' credit limits, mostly to
withdraw cash, investigators said.
For the past couple of years, Osorio lived mostly at an
inexpensive hotel and failed to pay the registration on his car, the
investigators said. Still unclear is how Osorio spent the money he allegedly
stole, the investigators said.
Baca, who received numerous briefings on the unfolding crisis,
said he ordered the department's Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau to
aggressively pursue the employees, particularly Osorio. "The cop side of who
I am said he had to be pursued until we had all the information we needed,"
Background Checks Come Under Fire
With the sheriff's permission, the investigators set up dummy
credit card accounts. Using surveillance equipment, the department made
videotapes of the employees receiving what they allegedly believed were
stolen credit cards. Baca personally approved using more than $35,000 to
carry out the sting operation.
Investigators say they monitored the recruitment of employee
after employee into the scheme, then watched them receive the cards and
later withdraw cash. Phillips was the only employee who apparently did not
participate in the card-for-cash scam, but she assisted ring members by
running a license plate check on sheriff's computers, a misdemeanor, the
Coleman, the custody assistant, became the link in Twin Towers
between Osorio and the other employees, the investigators allege. He
apparently arranged for the deliveries of the credit cards and the personal
identification numbers needed to obtain cash from bank machines, among other
things. The employees would then give Coleman a percentage of the money they
received from the cards, investigators say. Coleman, the investigators
allege, also would turn over a cut to Osorio.
Since most of the bank cards had a $300-a-day cash limit, the
investigators say the employees went several times to withdraw cash with
their cards, sometimes in disguise. The cards provided as part of the
investigators' sting were flagged by the bank so that whenever one was used,
the department was notified. The Sheriff's Department has numerous
videotapes, some taken by the machines' security cameras, allegedly showing
the employees withdrawing money.
"This whole thing is a den of thieves," Pippin said.
The internal investigation renews questions about the background
checks conducted not only on the sheriff's deputies, but also on the custody
assistants. Baca announced earlier this year that he wants to substantially
increase the number of civilians working in the jails, a proposal that
concerns even some of those in his own department, given this crisis.
Planty, for example, was just several months out of the sheriff's
training academy when she allegedly took part in the credit card scam.
The investigation comes against the backdrop of the Los Angeles
Police Department's Rampart corruption scandal, in which more than 30 LAPD
officers have been relieved of duty, suspended or fired or have quit. More
than 70 are under investigation for a variety of offenses, including
covering up unjustified shootings, intimidating witnesses, planting evidence
and perjury. In addition, prosecutors have overturned more than 75 felony
convictions because of the involvement of allegedly corrupt officers.
Baca said it is "rather bizarre" that the deputies became
involved in wrongdoing that mostly netted paltry sums.
Search the archives of the Los Angeles Times for similar stories
about: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Law Enforcement Officers -
Los Angeles, Police Corruption - Los Angeles County, Police Misconduct,
Credit Card Fraud, Investigations, Sting Operations.
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