Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Houston police bust large ID theft ring
Police have busted a Houston-based identity theft ring that victimized 457 people and 83 businesses scattered across 25 states, investigators announced today.
The scheme worked by stealing people's personal checks, then looking up their driver's license numbers in an on-line database. Theft ring participants would then use fake Texas driver's licenses featuring their pictures matched with the victims' identifying information to buy things with counterfeit checks.
As many as 191 people were looking to get fake identities and checks, based on passport-sized photos seized from the business earlier this month, police said. Investigators are now trying to identify all 191 people in those photographs with hopes of arresting them as well, said Lt. Robert Manzo of the Houston Police Departments Financial Crimes Unit.
The accused ringleader of the operation is Robert Lee Lyles, 65, who is charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, a first-degree felony. He was arrested Sept. 2 when Houston police served a search warrant at his rented office space at 440 Benmar.
Lyles was at his computer, printing a counterfeit check and a fake Texas driver's license, when police stormed the building, authorities said.
“He was definitely surprised when we showed up,” said Houston Police Department Financial Crimes Unit Sgt. Tom Wood. “He had no idea.”
Lyles is not cooperating with police, but investigators believe he had a large network of people working for him.
“We have very good reason to believe he may have been paying employees (at some businesses) to provide copies of checks written to them,” Manzo said. “We've contacted those victims — almost 500 of them.”
Also arrested Sept. 2 were two of Lyles' business associates, William Douglas Jackson, 45, and Derald Lane Desso, 42, who are each charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, a first-degree felony. Evelyn Dixon, 46, who is believed to be Lyles' “runner” — the person in charge of delivering the false documents — was arrested on the same charge.
In June, Houston police arrested Lyles' nephew, Bobby Lee Harris, 31, after serving a search warrant at his rented millon-dollar home in Spring and finding identification information belonging to more than 50 victims and a number of fake Texas driver's licenses. Harris was charged with fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, a second-degree felony.
Police said Harris had furnished the entire rented mansion near the Raveneaux Country Club with electronics and furniture purchased with stolen money. Investigators said they have since determined Lyles provided Harris with the documents he used.
Investigators have recovered hundreds of personal and business checks Lyles is accused of duplicating, along with the pictures and other information from his extensive list of “clients” looking to cash in on the scheme.