Florida-based ID thieves strike quickly in Northwest

EVERETT — Police believe that members of a prolific Florida-based gang of identity thieves have made inroads in Washington.

Prosecutors in Snohomish County earlier this month filed a felony charge against Ronald J. Rhoda, 41, of Hollywood, Florida. He’s accused of assuming a Mukilteo woman’s identity and stealing from her.

A 2013 Mukilteo police report alleges that Rhoda and a Florida woman are part of the Felony Lane Gang that’s known to travel the country, stealing identities and passing bad checks after breaking into cars.

“They hit us up and down the I-5 corridor quickly, and then they were gone,” Mukilteo detective Nicole Stone said.

“This is much bigger than we are used to,” she added.

The gang is known to target park, ballfield, community center, gym and day-care center parking lots — places where people are prone to leave wallets and purses in their cars. Often they’ll use stolen identification from one victim and the account number of another victim to swindle banks and credit unions.

The FBI and several police departments, including Everett, Mill Creek and Bothell, have investigated thefts connected to last fall’s crime spree, according to court documents. One victim from Issaquah had $27,000 stolen.

The Felony Lane Gang is so called because it uses the farthest outside drive-through lane at banks, where they believe they are less visible to tellers and surveillance cameras. That makes it easier to pass checks using false identities.

They’re known to rent cars using fake identification and to tint the windows and cover or remove the front license plate.

Rhoda and Alexa Joell Durkee, 24, also have been charged in Pierce County with 11 counts of identity theft and forgery. There are warrants out for their arrests. Rhoda has 13 felony convictions in Florida for possessing and selling cocaine between 1992 and 2011.

In the Mukilteo case, a woman reported her driver’s license was stolen while she was dropping off her children at day-care in September 2013. Someone withdrew $2,400 from her bank.

Her name and identity then were used to cash a $3,407 check from another person’s account at an Everett credit union. That second victim’s checkbook had been stolen from the University of Washington hospital.

In one instance in Pierce County, someone broke into a car parked at a YMCA in Gig Harbor and stole a woman’s driver’s license, Social Security card, checkbook and seven credit cards.

The same day, Rhoda and Durkee allegedly cashed $990 and $996 checks on the woman’s account at two banks within a 45-minute period.

The following day, they allegedly cashed a man’s stolen checks, making them payable to the woman whose identification had been stolen. The checks — totalling nearly $3,000 — were cashed at three banks in a one-hour period.

The Felony Lane Gang has been linked to criminal activity in many states.

In a major case in Pennsylvania, 10 gang members were sentenced to prison after being convicted on federal charges for a spree that took place over a three-month period in 2012. During that time, they stole the identities of more than 100 people. Their sentences ranged from one to nearly 16 years in prison.

Stone, the Mukilteo detective, said the likes of the Felony Lane Gang serve as a cautionary tale.

“Never leave your purse or wallet in your car,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s locked, unlocked or even if you have a car alarm. It only takes seconds.”

Those seconds can lead to years of headaches from repeated identity theft, she said.

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

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