Retail fraud ring sentenced following FBI investigation

CHARLOTTE, NC, April 7, 2010 -- Members of a prolific theft and fraud ring which operated in and around the Charlotte metropolitan area, as well as neighboring cities and states from 2003 through 2008 have all been sentenced in U.S. District Court announced U.S. Attorney Edward R. Ryan of the Western District of North Carolina.

Each of the nine defendants entered a plea of guilty to at least one count of wire fraud conspiracy. Others pleaded guilty, in addition, to a count of identity theft conspiracy. Each of the nine defendants were sentenced to terms of federal prison to be followed by terms of supervised release, and each was ordered to pay restitution into the court in the amount of $23,212.71 for disbursement to the many victims of their crimes. The government also seized, and is pursuing final forfeiture for restitution, various gift cards, and sums of U.S. currency found in the possession of one or more of the defendants. Information and status of each defendant is listed below.

Joining U.S. Attorney Ryan in making today’s announcement are a host of law enforcement agencies and businesses that provided substantial assistance to the FBI and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, who headed up the long and tedious investigation.

Alexander County Sheriff’s Office, North Carolina
Cheraw Police Department, South Carolina
Florence County Sheriff’s Office, South Carolina
Greensboro Police Department, North Carolina
High Point Police Department, North Carolina
Huntersville Police Department, North Carolina
Lexington Police Department, North Carolina
Lincolnton Police Department, North Carolina
Manning Police Department, South Carolina
Mooresville Police Department, North Carolina
North Carolina Department of Insurance
Taylorsville Police Department, North Carolina
Tega Cay Police Department, South Carolina
Toccoa Police Department, Georgia
Union County Sheriff’s Office, North Carolina
Wadesboro Police Department, North Carolina
Winston-Salem Police Department, North Carolina
York County Sheriff’s Office, South Carolina
Belk Department Stores
Certegy Check Services
Charlotte Housing Authority
Housing and Urban Development
Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services
Target Stores
TeleCheck Incorporated
TJ Maxx
Wal-Mart

According to court documents and statements offered in U.S. District Court hearings, each defendant admitted membership in a conspiracy made up of Loretta Blakeney-Herron, 40; Latoya Blakeney, 27; Lajarika Blakeney, 21; Laquasha Blakeney, 24; Latoya Moore, 22; Garnett Coulbourne, 22; Terrell Zardee, 21, Shontavia Barber, 20; and Gabriel Neal, 33, all from the Charlotte area. Each defendant admitted that, along with the other participants, he or she conspired to steal personal checks and identification documents from cars and homes, manipulate the stolen items using a home computer, and then travel to retail stores and purchase merchandise with the stolen and fictitious materials, sometimes forging the true check owner’s signature, and often using the stolen and fictitious materials to facilitate transactions. Each defendant also admitted that once those transactions were complete, they would either return the merchandise for cash, would sell the merchandise to others, would gift the merchandise to family and friends, or keep it for his or her own personal use.

To date, all nine defendants, originally charged with conspiracy and related crimes in a federal bill of indictment in December 2008, have pleaded guilty and been sentenced for their roles in this conspiracy.

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