Home Break-Ins Led to ID Theft

Jul. 14--They drove a shiny Lexus SUV, carried designer purses and dressed immaculately.

Each played a different role, investigators said.

One snatched credit cards and driver's licenses from parked cars and Broward County homes. Another donned disguises to match the stolen IDs.

When they needed someone with a specific look to cash a check or use a stolen credit card, they would recruit a homeless person to play the role.

Cops call them a major identity-theft ring. Now they are facing a variety of criminal charges, snared as part of a larger police dragnet called Operation Felony Lane.

"These guys were definitely on the Felony Lane radar," said Mike Jachles, a Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman. "We knew who they were. They had been arrested before."

Operation Felony Lane, a joint effort by the the U.S. Secret Service and several local police departments, targets highly organized identity-theft rings in South Florida. It's named for the farthest drive-though lane at the bank -- the one sometimes used by crooks to avoid surveillance cameras.

Since 2004, the federal task force has netted more than 100 arrests, authorities say.

"The crime is so widespread we had to combat it by combining forces," said Coral Springs police Capt. Jim Milford, a task force member. "It took a while to understand it. We got a number of burglaries and car thefts several years ago that led to ID theft. It's a major problem."

Here's what happened in the latest arrest, according to BSO:

On June 21, Antwon Clark slipped into a North Lauderdale home and stole several ID cards and a checkbook. He might have gotten away with the crime, but a neighbor saw him in action and called police.

Clark, 25, had long been in BSO's sights. The North Lauderdale man was suspected in a number of vehicle break-ins earlier this year, authorities said.

Local law-enforcement officers caught up with Clark on Thursday afternoon at a Shell gas station in Tamarac. He was there with his girlfriend, Sophia Williams, 20. The two were in a rented Chrysler Crossfire convertible.

(Clark's Hummer and Jaguar had recently been repossessed, authorities said.)

Several of Clark's associates were at the gas station, too. Larushiea Cross, 26, Kela Marquett Haynes, 23, and Aziza Alvarez, 21, were piled into a Lexus sport utility vehicle. They were well-dressed and well-manicured and carrying designer purses, deputies said.

Also in the SUV: a homeless woman named Teresa Rojas.

The group was going to cash some stolen checks. They had planned to put Rojas in a blond wig so she would look like the woman pictured on a stolen ID card.

Investigators later recovered dozens of driver's licenses, Social Security cards and credit cards from the car. There were electronics, jewelry, marijuana and a canister of chemical defense spray, a BSO spokesman said.

Also recovered: two ladies' wigs, one blond and one brunet.

"There was a concealment inside the roof of the car," Jachles said. "They had a place to stash the ID's. We also found burglar's tools in the cars."

Clark was charged with burglary of a dwelling, grand theft and dealing in stolen property. Williams and Alvarez were charged with possession of stolen property and possession of burglary tools, among other crimes.

Cross is charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Haynes and the homeless woman were not charged.

Additional charges may follow, BSO said.

For the past 10 days, Claudia Fajardo's life has stood paralyzed. Fajardo, 47, hasn't had her immigration papers or driver's license since her purse was stolen July 4 at a Fort Lauderdale park.

Fajardo, of Margate, tucked her purse under the passenger's seat of her husband's Ford Explorer because she didn't want to hold it while they watched a baseball game, her husband, Luis Fajardo, said.

"She never did that before," Fajardo said in Spanish. "She's always very careful, but in the moment you don't think about it."

The Fajardos have been paying for that day ever since.

They spent $600 replacing a broken window on the Explorer, as well as personal items in the purse and applications to reapply for her immigration papers.

"A chain of problems occurred from this," Luis Fajardo said.

The suspects have a lengthy rap sheet.

Clark has been arrested more than a dozen times, state Department of Law Enforcement records show. In 2005, he was sentenced to one year probation for petit theft and three months of jail time for attempted burglary and drug possession.

In 2005, Cross was charged in Plantation with having a phony driver's license. The charges were later dropped. Alvarez has pleaded guilty to petit theft charges in North Miami Beach. And earlier this year, Clark, Williams and Haynes were arrested together for breaking into a building Orlando.

"There will be more federal indictments coming," Jachles said. "They haven't heard the last of us."

<<Miami Herald, The (KRT) -- 07/16/07>>