By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
EVERETT — Police and U.S. Secret Service agents believe they have taken down a major identity theft and forgery ring involving at least a dozen suspects and more than 100 victims.
“It was a pretty well-run network,” said Everett police Sgt. Mark Thacker, who oversees the department’s financial crimes unit.
The number of victims could grow as experts analyze computer hard drives and video surveillance footage from businesses where the suspects tried to get money. As of Friday evening, authorities estimated more than $45,000 had been stolen, but said that amount is likely to grow.
Evidence is being examined at the Secret Service’s Electronic Crimes Task Force lab in Seattle.
Many of the victims — both individuals and businesses — are from Everett, but the center for the operation was traced to a hotel room in Shoreline.
That’s where police and the Secret Service found what amounted to a ID-theft factory Thursday.
“These labs tend to be mobile,” Thacker said. “They go from hotel to hotel.”
The room contained a computer, two laptops, laminating paper, card stock, check stock and a hot laminator machine along with identification, checks and bags of mail that had been stolen. Also seized were more than 100 licenses and other IDs, roughly 20 hard drives and numerous other media storage devices, such as thumb drives and memory chips.
Six defendants made appearances at bail hearings Friday afternoon. The group included Michael J. Suryan, 53, who was identified in court papers as a ringleader. Police allege he was the “ID theft lab operator,” the one who created the phony identifications, bogus checks and other documents. He was arrested for investigation of 38 counts of financial fraud. Bail was set at $200,000.
Police found at least 10 pieces of forged identification that included his photograph with someone else’s personal information.
They also recovered at least 150 counterfeit checks inside the room.
Some of the defendants could be charged under federal laws, Thacker said.
In October, Everett detective Jamie French began investigating Suryan’s alleged counterfeit and theft ring. Since the case involved victims in so many cities, Everett police asked the Secret Service to join the investigation, Thacker said.
On Thursday, a Secret Service agent tracked Suryan to the motel room where he had been living the past two weeks.
Police then located two other suspects at a Shoreline supermarket where they allegedly tried to pass a bad check. Both were arrested. While being handcuffed, one woman dropped a suspected counterfeit check made out for more than $400 and tried to hide it, according to court papers.
Thacker said such large-scale identity-theft operations typically include people with different roles.
There are the collectors, who steal mail and break into cars or homes in search of identification. Often, they are paid in drugs.
The lab operator creates the phony documents.
And there are runners who try to pass the bad checks and typically get a percentage of the cash they receive.
Police believe they’ve identified many of the players.
“This is a long investigation,” Thacker said. “A big, big, thick binder.”
Washington state ranked 18th per capita in terms of identity theft crimes in 2010, according to a national survey.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, email@example.com.