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Criminal Charges: Volume XXIV — The letter ‘F’ edition

Jeremy Simon

This edition of Criminal Charges looks to the alphabet for some inspiration. With stories involving fish, firemen and country club thieves yelling, “Fore!,” you might say this week’s collection of payment card crime stories is brought to you by the letter “F.”

Something fishy this way swims
Pet store owners in Long Island, N.Y., can rest a little easier now that a serial fishnapper has been caught.

Police say that while visiting a pet store, Elbert Starks of Freeport, N.Y., allegedly reached into a fish tank, grabbed a shark in his bare hands and sneaked it out of the store. He kept the $350 nurse shark in a 250-gallon tank in his home, authorities say.

Starks didn’t only snatch sea life: He is also charged with stealing a pet store employee’s credit card in order to buy a green moray eel from another pet shop, according to police. According to a report by, Starks “stole the credit card January 2 at 4 p.m. from Pet Barn on Franklin Avenue in Franklin Square after seeing the cashier’s wallet on the counter, police said. He used the card more than three hours later to pay $300 for the eel at Parrots of the World on Sunrise Highway in Rockville Centre.”

The store told authorities about the credit card theft the following day. That enabled police to link the descriptions of the stolen credit card suspect and the stolen shark suspect, according to a police spokesman. Starks was arrested at his job.

The police spokesman says Starks had other exotic fish in his tank but was able to use receipts to prove they were purchased legally.

Meanwhile, some thieves prefer eating fish to keeping them as pets.

Carisa DineenCarisa Dineen of Naples, Fla., was arrested by police after allegedly using stolen credit cards to buy American Express and Red Lobster gift cards. Dineen apparently entered a home through an unlocked door and took credit cards from a purse inside while the residents were away. They were tipped off to the crime after receiving a call from their credit card issuer about suspicious charges.

“Field Service Technician Torri Brackins learned where the credit cards had been used and got surveillance video from those locations. Discovering that the suspect had purchased several American Express and Red Lobster gift cards, Brackins spoke with employees at the local Red Lobster and gave them a description of the suspect, warning that the person might try to use these gift cards,” the Gainesville Sun reports.

Dineen’s love of the lobster evidently drew her back. “That same afternoon, the restaurant employees contacted officers and said the suspect was at the business,” the Web site reports. Dineen was arrested and booked into the Alachua County jail.

Firemen, gasoline a bad combo
Fire fighters who mixed with gas ended up getting burned.

Three Bridges, N.J., fireman James D. Traynor was charged with using a fire company gas card to purchase fuel for his personal vehicle on Dec. 16, 2008. According to a report in the Hunterdon Review, “Traynor was arrested after a Hess gas station employee discovered he was using the fire company’s fleet card to buy gas for his personal vehicle, police said.” Authorities say that while he has not been charged, Traynor is also suspected of charging $1,600 at Hess gas stations, charges that appeared on one of the Three Bridges Fire Company’s fleet cards that went missing on Nov. 6, 2008.

Separately, Stephen C. Smith, a former LeRoy, N.Y., fire chief, was arrested January 9 on charges of illegally using a fire district credit card, forging documents in an attempted cover-up and stealing gas for his personal use. Smith “is accused of engaging in systematic fraud, using a credit card illegally and falsifying receipts to the credit card company to hide his alleged crimes,” the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports. “In addition, Smith also is charged with billing a personal cell phone to the fire district and pumping district gasoline into his personal vehicle.”

Strangely enough, LeRoy police say the amount of his alleged crimes totals $1,600. Coincidence?

Philly golf club thieves busted
A Philadelphia crime ring that targeted at least 34 country clubs across southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey in search of some green was broken up by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and Pennsylvania State Police on Jan. 13, following an investigation known as “Operation Bad Drive.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett says the investigation focused on Michael Pacitti and four accomplices, who allegedly used credit cards stolen from vehicles parked at area country clubs to make purchases at retail stores throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. A grand jury says that beginning in the spring of 2008, Pacitti began stealing items left unattended in cars, including GPS devices, laptop computers and iPods.

The crew had a rather clever way of getting at cards and other items. “Corbett said that Pacitti targeted unlocked vehicles or entered the vehicles by using master keys, or even by using golf balls to break the windows, making it appear to the owner as though someone had hit an out of bounds shot that struck their car,” according to a press release on the Attorney General’s Web site. “The grand jury found that Pacitti gave the stolen credit cards to Todd Stark, Nicholas Cordisio or Kimberly Kinkade and had them make multiple high end purchases at local retail stores.”

According to the press release, the group is responsible for buying and selling more than $100,000 in stolen merchandise and attempting to make more than $25,000 in credit card purchases.

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