Grand jury: Inmate steered ID scam
By STEVE BOUSQUET
© St. Petersburg Times,
TALLAHASSEE -- Using the phone outside his Panhandle prison cell, Jeffrey Campbell served as the ringleader of an identity theft ring that stretched to Miami and netted about $200,000 in stolen property, state agents said Wednesday.
Campbell, 32, already serving a nine-year sentence in a state prison for a similar scheme in Florida and Georgia, was among six people charged by a statewide grand jury that convened last week in Orlando at the urging of Gov. Jeb Bush.
The grand jury investigated the problem of using stolen IDs to open phony bank accounts, buy cars, obtain credit cards at jewelry or home supply stores and, in the process, rip off retailers and destroy the credit of unsuspecting victims.
One of the victims was a deputy U.S. marshal, Anthony Ross, who used to work in Broward County but is now out of state. He knew something was wrong when he received a summons to appear in court on charges of never returning a rental car.
Campbell is charged with one count of racketeering, one count of conspiracy and 18 counts of fraudulent use of personal IDs. Also charged were his girlfriend, Allenia McKinnon, 25; Joseph Johnson, 29; and Laura Weiler, 59; all of Miami-Dade.
The two women were being held in the Broward County jail in lieu of $250,000 bond, and Johnson was already in custody in Miami. Two others still were being sought.
Prosecutors and agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Campbell directed the fraud ring by telephone and through the mail from his cell at Gulf Correctional Institution in Wewahitchka, raising questions about whether prison officials were watching Campbell as closely as they should have been.
"We thought that putting him there the first time would stop the problem, but obviously it didn't," said FDLE Special Agent Wayne Ivey, who directed the investigation.
Ivey described the Campbell "family" as a sophisticated fraud network that was capable of running up millions of dollars in thefts quickly. The agent said employees of banks and stores were "compromised" by Campbell and his associates. In other cases, he said, they opened bank accounts, obtained a set of starter checks, altered the numbers and wrote bad checks.
The Department of Corrections said Campbell received a disciplinary notice last month after a guard saw him using a cellular phone in his cell. He was cited in May and June for using an inmate's personal identification number to initiate calls on a prison phone.
The Department of Corrections insisted it cooperated with investigators since June 2000, when agents from the Social Security administration alerted them as to Campbell's activities.
"We've been monitoring his calls and monitoring his mail," Department of Corrections spokeswoman Debbie Buchanan said.
But state officials who detailed the arrests at a news conference, Statewide Prosecutor Melanie Hines and FDLE Commissioner Tim Moore, did not specify the prison system as having helped crack the case.
Gulf CI warden Duffy Harrison declined requests for interviews, Buchanan said, adding that Campbell was shifted Wednesday to a prison in Miami-Dade.
"One thing about identity theft cases is they're all different," Hines said. "This is an organization that was able to obtain fraudulently issued driver's licenses."
Moore said the ease with which thieves can produce phony licenses shows the need to develop a fraud-proof license as soon as possible. "We need to get out of deniability and acknowledge that there are some problems there," Moore said.
The Legislature appropriated money for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to install 55 surveillance cameras at driver's license offices across the state, hoping to stop fraud that might exist within the agency itself.
Federal Trade Commission statistics show Florida ranks third in the nation, behind California and New York, in the number of identity fraud victims, Moore said. He also cited a study by Discover Card showing that Miami-Dade ranked No. 1 in the nation in the number of its customers whose cards were reported lost or stolen.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire