Authorities say they've broken up a crime ring that used "identity theft'' to steal more than $87,000 in money and merchandise.
The group allegedly pilfered financial information about customers of an auto dealership and used it to apply for credit cards and loans and to open checking accounts.
"Identity theft and bank fraud are the new organized crime in Denver,'' said Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter. "We will continue to use racketeering (laws) to attack these groups, who perpetrate their crimes by literally stealing other people's identities.''
Phil Parrott, one of the prosecutors who oversaw the grand jury investigation, said identity theft schemes have reached "epidemic proportions'' in the Denver area.
In the past two years, almost 60 people have been charged or indicted for operating similar rings in Denver, Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, Parrott said.
"And that is the tip of the iceberg because . . . the people we catch are usually the principals. Usually there are lots of runners who we don't come across,'' Parrott said.
The ring allegedly operated between January and July. Indicted were Michael Alan Stonehouse, 35, of Denver; David L. Bessey, 23, of Aurora; and Sherri Lynn Adams, 27, of Littleton. All were charged with racketeering, theft, forgery and conspiracy. They remain at large and are sought by police.
Parrott said Bessey, a former employee of John Elway AutoNation-Toyota in Arapahoe County, persuaded "one or more of his former friends'' at the dealership to give him files containing personal and financial information on 20 customers.
The indictment also alleges that Stonehouse, Bessey and Adams got the names of two other victims from the files of Equinox, a company that markets health products and other items.
All three were associates of Equinox. From April 1 through June 30, all worked out of the Equinox office, 2040 S. Oneida St. Equinox was not involved in the crime ring, officials said.
Stonehouse was allegedly the ringleader of the group. The grand jury said the suspects used information from the files to obtain credit cards and open checking accounts through US Bank, apply for loans through Bank One and buy merchandise with credit cards issued by various retail stores.
One one occasion, Stonehouse allegedly posed as a man named Robert Martin and obtained a Bank One loan for $5,000. A month later, he allegedly went to another branch impersonating a man named Michael Leapley and signed for a $10,000 loan.
By then, however, investigators were on his trail, and he was arrested at the bank by Lakewood police officers. He was later released on bond.
Parrott said theft of identity can be devastating.
Though not responsible for the financial loss, the victims "suffer greatly in terms of their inability to convince the world - particularly the credit world and the employment world and anyone else who checks on them - that they were not the actual persons engaged in this activity,'' Parrott said.