WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - If you bought a cellphone on the street in the last year, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd might want to talk to you.
Sheriff Judd says his deputies have busted a ring of criminals that not only swiped cell phones from stores around the state, but also stole the identities of dozens of victims in the process.
“In all honesty, we’re not interested in you, we’re interested in them. Just help a brother out here,” said Sheriff Judd at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, four suspects stole or attempted to steal over $125,000 worth of phones and gift cards from Walmart and Sam’s Club going back to April of last year.
Sheriff Grady Judd explained Thursday how the alleged scheme worked: The suspects created official-looking ID's using the personal information from 63 identity theft victims, used the fake IDs to sign up for phone service, then canceled the contracts and resold the phones.
“Very high quality, fake identification,” said Sheriff Judd.
Judd cited 169 thefts that occurred in 22 Florida counties. But detectives say the suspects also hit stores in North Carolina, Virginia, and Mississippi.
One of his undercover deputies captured two of the four suspects on video illegally buying phones at a Walmart.
“They’d sign up for telephones and telephone plans using our victims’ ID’s. Then when they leave the store, they come back and cancel the plan. Then they take the phone and sell them on the street and make their money,” explained Sheriff Judd.
Two of the suspects – 36-year-old Edouard Fleurant and 28-year-old Carlos Milan, both of Kissimmee – were arrested Wednesday. Detectives are still looking for the other two suspects, identified as 43-year-old Marvin Fleurant of Orlando – the alleged ringleader – and 28-year-old Karla Jazmin Hernandez Romero of Kissimmee.
“These identity theft victims will have lingering negative effects on their credit scores and it will take months to clear up their accounts,” Sheriff Judd offered. “Each of these suspects needs to spend time in prison – they have earned their trip."
Investigators say these guys stole Jason Stonerock’s identity and used it to buy phones.
“I get a letter in the male stating that I got Verizon phones and I didn’t get none,” said Stonerock.
A few weeks after that, he says he received another letter, this time from AT&T. He says they got 10 phones in his name.
“Five from Verizon, five from AT&T,” said Stonerock who added that cost of the phones totaled nearly $10,000. “It makes me very mad.”
Deputies need help finding the two remaining suspects who are still on the run: Fleurant and Hernandez-Romero. And, if you bought a phone from any one of the four suspects, the sheriff wants to hear from you.
“We want you for a witness and we want the phone back! But if you don’t call us and we have to track you down one at a time, you will be subject to dealing in stolen property charges which is a second degree felony. Did you hear me?” said Sheriff Judd.
Investigators say all four live in big, fancy houses and not one has a real job of record. The sheriff says he’s confident the charges they have against this crew are just the tip of the iceberg.