Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Two Found Guilty In Major Auto Break-In Case in Shenandoah National Park

Another reason to not leave valuables in your car while hiking - or at least lock them in your trunk:

On October 21st, Shenandoah rangers arrested two people – Florida residents Hataria Whitehead and Stephanie Kantz – who were suspected of committing two vehicle burglaries (‘car clouts’) within the park. Numerous items of stolen property were found inside their vehicle, including various IDs, bank checks, electronic equipment, and over 30 credit cards. 

The case was transferred to the Investigative Services Branch. The ensuing investigation revealed that the pair had been involved in a type of aggravated identity theft referred to as ‘Felony Lane Gang’ schemes. In summary, the scheme involves breaking into vehicles to steal identification documents, credit cards and bank checks. The perpetrators then cash one victim’s bank checks by using a separate victim’s bank information and identification.

The thieves frequently work in teams and wear disguises in order to appear like their victims. They use the outermost lane at a bank’s drive-thru to make their fraudulent transactions, thus earning the nickname the ‘Felony Lane Gang.’ They also use the victims’ credit card(s) to purchase gift cards that can be later used as cash.

At the time of their arrest, Kantz and Whitehead had in their possession over $3,500 in U.S. currency and 111 gift cards valued at more than $3,800.

Several state and federal task forces exist throughout the country to combat these traveling, Florida-based groups. With the assistance of the United States Attorney’s Office, the United States Secret Service, local law enforcement agencies, corporate fraud investigators and many victims, investigators uncovered evidence which linked Kantz and Whitehead to numerous cases in several different jurisdictions and identified more than 50 additional victims. This evidence was then used to indict them federally under conspiracy and various fraud-related statutes.

Whitehead is also wanted by the state of Florida on burglary and grand theft charges. Knowing he had an active warrant at the time of his arrest, Whitehead falsely identified himself as his brother. His true name was not known until after two court appearances, during which Whitehead testified (and lied) under oath about his identity. He was subsequently charged with two counts of perjury.

Pursuant to the terms of a plea agreement, both Kantz and Whitehead were found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud using identification documents of another, conspiracy to commit fraud using access devices, and aggravated identity theft – the proceeds of which totaled more than $70,000.

The aggravated identity theft statute (18 U.S.C. 1028A) carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years imprisonment, which must be served consecutively to any other sentence that is received. A forfeiture provision for the items that were seized in the case was also included in the plea agreements.

Kantz and Whitehead have been in custody since their arrest and are scheduled to be sentenced on June 12th.


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