2013-06-07 / Community

Arrests made in Target fraud scheme

Counterfeit credit cards were used to make purchases
By Carissa Marsh

The Simi Valley Police Department arrested three out-oftowners last week on suspicion of defrauding area Target stores out of tens of thousands of dollars.

The arrests were the culmination of a four-month investigation by Simi PD detectives, who served two search warrants in Los Angeles on May 16 that resulted in the apprehension of three L.A. residents.

The two men and one woman who were arrested are accused of entering Target stores throughout Southern California—including stores in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and Oxnard— and using counterfeit credit cards to purchase items.

It is estimated that these stores were losing thousands of dollars in merchandise every day and that over the course of the four-month investigation Target had more than $100,000 worth of goods stolen, police said.

According to Detective Stephen

Collett, about 40 to 50 Target stores—including both locations in Simi—were affected.

“They did come to Ventura County a number of times. They came to Simi Valley a number of times, but they were going all over, between here and Rancho Cucamonga and Riverside and Irvine and Newport Beach,” he said. “They were all over the place.”

While the crimes occurred over a wide region, the department’s good working relationship with Target enabled Simi PD to learn about and take the lead on the case.

“Any time anything pops up at Target or any of the other retailers in town, because of the connection we have with them, if it’s anything they feel is suspicious, they’ll call us and give us a heads-up,” the detective said. “If they can’t really substantiate a crime (has occurred) yet but something doesn’t seem right, we’ll take a look at it.”

Collett said the three suspects came to Simi Valley and made multiple gift card purchases in February. Target thought that was strange and called police, who verified with several banks that the purchases were fraudulent.

The detective said the criminals loaded stolen personal account information onto credit cards and then used the counterfeit cards to purchase Target gift cards, which were then used to buy goods.

“As long as (a card) has a magnetic strip on it they can reprogram it,” Collett said.

During their investigation, Simi detectives were able to determine that the stolen personal information later uploaded onto the counterfeit credit cards came from people from throughout the United States.

Collett could not reveal the process used by the thieves to access the victims’ account information because the case is still open. But it is believed that hundreds, if not thousands, of people were affected by the crime spree, he said.

Personnel from the Simi Valley Police Department’s detective unit, special operations unit and SWAT team partnered with the United States postal inspector’s office, U.S. Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Southern California Target Investigations Center on the case.

Officials simultaneously served search warrants at two residential locations in Los Angeles. They say they recovered evidence related to the crimes, including unused counterfeit credit cards as well as a stolen handgun.

The three people arrested during the execution of the search warrants were Ryan Deon Williams Gomez, 29, Samantha Joeline Westby, 23, and Johnny Brogan Williams Jr., 23.

Collett said Gomez and Williams are associated with a criminal street gang in Los Angeles and that it was because of their ties to these gangs that a SWAT team was used to serve one of the warrants.

All three were booked at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles and charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

They will likely face additional charges.

“The (U.S. attorney’s office) is looking at several charges,” Collett said. “They are going to be facing the identity theft-conspiracy angle. Plus, Ryan Gomez had a stolen gun in his residence. So he’s facing that as well.”

According to Collett, one of his fellow detectives asked one of the suspects during the investigation what his biggest mistake was that resulted in his being arrested by Simi PD. The suspect answered, “I came to Simi Valley” to commit the crime, police said.

“We like to convey that—people are going to do what they do, just stay out of Ventura County if you’re going to be doing that,” Collett said. “We will definitely work the case until it’s resolved to the best of our ability.”

“We have the best officers in the state of California, if not the country,” SVPD Chief Mitch Mc- Cann said in a news release. “Any criminal who thinks they are going to commit their crimes here should think twice and should know that we will find them.”

Simi PD’s Detective Unit is continuing its investigation and is asking anyone with information regarding the three suspects to call Collett at (805) 583-6968.

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