Police say identity ring used state equipment

Associated Press

BELLEVUE — An identity theft ring used stolen state Licensing Department equipment to make fake licenses and buy goods with stolen credit cards and checks before being shut down, State Patrol investigators said.

A 37-year-old Federal Way man was arrested June 8, and authorities have identified four other individuals from the Federal Way area, one of them a former employee of the agency who was fired in 1996, as potentially involved, patrol officials said Tuesday.

"The patrol hasn’t seen anything like this, this large before," Capt. Eric Robertson told a news conference. "There’s quite a bit of evidence of fraud and theft. It’s a pretty significant case. It was a huge law enforcement puzzle."

No one is now in custody, no charges have been filed, and the man who was arrested is no longer in custody, Robertson said. But "we believe we have everyone involved and we believe we have all the equipment and things used to manufacture the false driver’s licenses," he said.

"This case is growing by the minute," he said.

Since April 1999, burglars have hit state licensing offices 28 times in the western part of the state, principally in the Seattle area, department spokesman Mark Varadian said.

Department officials asked the patrol last month to coordinate an investigation after employees noticed a pattern in the thefts, Varadian said.

He described the former state employee as a 50-year-old woman who was fired for "neglect of duty (and) gross misconduct" after false driver’s licenses were found in an arrest in Bellevue in 1996.

As a result of the discovery, she was charged with two counts of forgery and one count of second-degree possession of stolen property and was sentenced to about nine months in jail, Robertson said.

He explained the workings of the ring as follows:

From department offices the thieves took cameras, plates and laminates used to make driver’s licenses, and from individuals they stole purses and wallets containing credit cards, driver’s licenses and checkbooks.

The thieves then put their own pictures on fake licenses bearing the names and other personal data of the individual victims, then used that identification to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchases on the stolen credit cards and checks, to open new bank accounts and to obtain new credit cards, Robertson said.

So far, 106 people are likely victims, and there may be more. Since June 8 detectives have served nine search warrants and seized computers and other items that are still being examined.

"There’s a lot more work ahead," Robertson said. "However, we’re just glad that they’re out of business."

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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