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Criminal Charges: Volume XXV — Trust no one

Jeremy Simon

Sorting through stacks of stories that highlight criminals’ use of credit cards gives you a sunny outlook on life that can be summed up in a single phrase: Trust no one.

That means when it comes to credit cards and theft, you’d be wise to think twice before trusting your kids, your grandchildrenthe real police, the fake policeemployees, business owners, house guestspeople you find through Craigslist — and the individuals you’re about to meet.

You can’t always trust your fiance
A Diamond Bluff, Wis., woman probably realized her fiance wasn’t exactly the marrying kind after he used her stolen credit card information to charge a flight to Hawaii in order to rendezvous with another woman.

Kathleen Cullen met James E. Jackson (identified alternately as Raymond Jackson) in September 2008, and let him move in with her just after Thanksgiving. Soon enough, they were planning a New Year’s Eve wedding in Las Vegas, but in late December, Jackson told Cullen he had a business meeting in North Dakota and took off on a flight.

Despite that cover story, Jackson was bound for Hawaii, allegedly paying for his one-way trip using the stolen credit card information. According to police, when Cullen returned home that night, she found the charge on her credit card. What she didn’t find were her missing laptop computer, cell phone, diamond engagement ring and a pearl necklace, all allegedly taken by Jackson.

In Hawaii, Jackson apparently soaked up the aloha lifestyle, enjoying diving and surfing lessons, staying at a hotel and attending a time-share presentation. But the items he stole back on the mainland helped local authorities locate him: Court records indicate that the cell phone and credit card usage were monitored to track some of Jackson’s movements.

The thief didn’t cut off contact with his jilted fiancee: The Hastings-Star Gazette reports that investigators posing as Cullen communicated via e-mail with Jackson, who eventually called her from his Maui hotel room. That enabled Maui police to trace the call.

On Jan. 9, the Hawaiian hotel stay came to a shocking conclusion. “When Jackson didn’t answer a telephone call to the room in which he was staying, police went to the door and knocked,” the Maui News reports. “Jackson opened the door as police were preparing to kick it in. He was ordered to lie on the floor but instead turned and appeared to be walking away toward the open lanai door when a police officer deployed a Taser stun gun to immobilize Jackson,” police say.

Despite his stopover in Hawaii, Jackson apparently had colder climates on his mind and planned a pending move to Russia with a woman he met over the Internet. “According to court documents, Jackson told police he had given the Wisconsin woman’s diamond ring and pearl necklace to his new girlfriend,” the Maui News reports. “After meeting his new girlfriend online, he said the two met in person on Maui. The new girlfriend had returned to Azerbaijan, Jackson told police when he was arrested.”

The thieving fiance is now set to face a theft charge in Hawaii for using the stolen credit card before undergoing extradition back to Wisconsin. Jackson also failed to pay his $800 bill at the Maui Prince Hotel. According to court records, Jackson has already been arrested for credit card fraud and abuse in California, Minnesota, Tennessee and Mississippi.

You can’t always trust your priest
Two Roman Catholic priests stand accused of stealing $800,000 from their West Palm Beach, Fla., church’s collection plate. They allegedly used the money to buy property and rare coins, pay a mistress’s credit card bills, take vacations and go gambling.

According to a report by BBC News, Monsignor John Skehan and the Rev. Francis Guinan allegedly stashed the stolen money in the church ceiling and used it to open offshore accounts. Skehan has abandoned his not guilty plea, while Guinan denies the charges.

The BBC says Skehan “admitted spending stolen money on gambling in Las Vegas and a collection of rare coins,” although his attorney says Skehan denies spending the pilfered funds on expensive homes. The lawyer also says that Skehan admits to stealing more than $100,000, not nearly $800,000.

Meanwhile, Guinan “has been accused of using his share of the embezzled money to support a mistress and take her on expensive holidays,” the BBC reports. Authorities say the woman was a former church bookkeeper with whom Guinan had an “intimate” relationship. He allegedly paid her credit card bills and child’s school tuition with money not recorded on the church books, the Associated Press reports.

You can’t always trust your gambling, shopping-addicted treasurer
A former Pennsylvania ambulance association treasurer seemingly couldn’t keep her demons under control, allegedly funding her extracurricular gambling and shopping activities with over $5,000 stolen from her employer. Cassandra Lee Screenock was charged with theft for taking funds from the West Hazleton Community Ambulance Association via a debit card she obtained in the company’s name.

“According to court records: Robert Kramer, a West Hazleton Community Ambulance Association member, told police Chief Brian Buglio on Dec. 30 that Screenock had been using an association debit card to withdraw funds for personal use,” the Times Leader reports. Theodore R. Laputka, the association’s chairman, current treasurer and self-described “watchdog,” says he learned in early September that the association had been issued a debit card. He realized money was missing after examining the association’s checking account early the next month. Laputka was told by the bank that Screenock had, without the board’s knowledge, established a debit card and used it to make unauthorized cash withdrawals and purchases.

Apparently, she just picked up the wrong plastic. “Laputka said Screenock told him she had mistakenly used the ambulance debit card instead of her own debit card. He said he had the association accounts frozen on Nov. 14 after he discovered more withdrawals,” the Times Leader reports. “At a meeting on Nov. 16, the association confronted Screenock about the money, and the board asked her to pay it back. Laputka said Screenock paid back $5,000 with a credit card transfer, using a credit card in her father’s name.”

Screenock blamed the theft on her gambling and shopping addictions, telling police she used the bulk of the stolen money to purchase lottery tickets. The ex-treasurer says she made 47 unauthorized cash withdrawals in addition to buying gasoline, cigarettes, video games, food and a membership to an adult social networking Web site.

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