3 involved in massive identity theft ring sentenced to prison

EVERETT — It was an unusual case in several ways.

The investigation turned up 500 potential victims and nearly a half million dollars gained through a sophisticated scheme of stealing identities and racking up bills with ill-gotten credit.

Snohomish County prosecutors can’t remember handling an identity theft case with so many victims.

“Sadly,” a deputy prosecutor wrote in court papers, “the vastness and complexity of this case surpasses the state’s ability to investigate it.”

Banks and retailers also were hard hit. Nordstrom’s alone was out more than $47,000.

The investigation tracked victims from Snohomish County to New Jersey. None of the three defendants had been convicted of a felony before their 29th birthday. All had decent work histories until a few years ago. One had earned an economics degree from the University of Washington and went on to work in public television for a spell.

In the end, they’re all headed to prison for lengthy terms. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Joseph Wilson saw to that during their sentencing Wednesday.

David J. King, 34, of Lake Stevens, who wrestled and played soccer player before spending four years in the Navy, was sentenced to more than five years in prison.

Vikram Chorpa, 32, a high school honors student and UW graduate from Renton, was given a seven-year term. That was the maximum under state sentencing guidelines.

Shawn Schulze, 31, who grew up in Everett and worked in retail for many years, was sentenced to nearly nine years in prison. The Everett man received the longest sentence in part because he previously had been convicted of identity theft.

The defendants blew the money they stole on drugs, gambling and hotel rooms. Their 15-month spree made life miserable for countless people.

One man had to take weeks off work trying to stop the financial hemorrhaging and to repair his credit. One man was stuck in another country when his credit was drained. He ended up needing to borrow money from friends to get home. Two others said they are still hounded by collection agencies.

Prosecutors have six months to come up with a figure for the suspects to pay as final restitution.

“Really the root of this was greed,” deputy prosecutor Dana Little said. She asked for lengthy sentences for all three “to protect society.”

The defendants blamed their actions on drug use that began with painkillers and snowballed into heroin and methamphetamine addictions.

Their case provides a glimpse into the world of identity theft, which claims more than 10 million victims a year in America and amounts to a $20 billion-a-year criminal enterprise.

The undoing of the Snohomish County trio began in a fourth-floor Mukilteo hotel room in March 2013. A cleaning crew discovered a police scanner, a safe deposit box filled with cash and many tools of the identity theft trade.

Mukilteo police found multiple Washington driver’s licenses and identification cards with pictures of the suspects. No two cards had the same name.

There were Social Security cards with different names, blank paper to make phony checks, stolen mail, a laminator and notebooks with personal information including names, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, places of work and other information.

Some personal information was stored on computers, smart phones and tablets.

The search warrant on the hotel room alone yielded evidence of 182 victims, with full financial profiles on 85 victims.

Mukilteo police and county prosecutors spent hundreds of hours investigating. Their case put together police reports from nearly two dozen agencies.

Prosecutors believe the culprits stole mail to glean personal information. They paid a woman working for a credit card agency to fill in gaps about their victims, including Social Security numbers. Charges against her are pending.

Armed with the information, the defendants were able to obtain their victims’ full credit reports. That paved the way for them to take over victims’ credit card accounts.

The men were arrested in a rental car. It had been leased using the name of one of their victims. In Chorpa’s wallet, police found a fake ID with the defendant’s face and the victim’s name on it.

Police also found torn up paper in the backseat. A detective pieced the shreds together. It had King’s face and the same victim’s name on it.

Police recovered a credit card receipt for $7,494 in electronic devices. The purchases had been made using the same man’s stolen credit.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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