The Denver Post - Three Arrested in Credit-Card Scam in Denver, Thanks to Dog and Eagle Eye

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Three arrested in credit-card scam in Denver, thanks to dog and eagle eye

By Kevin Vaughan
The Denver Post

Steve Weil, president of Rockmount Ranch Wear, and dog Wazee helped bring about three arrests in a credit-card scheme. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

This is a story of a multistate credit-card scam that took Denver businesses for thousands of dollars, an eagle-eyed store owner and a yellow Lab who, for want of a biscuit, set in motion the chain of events that cracked the case.

The dog's name is Wazee, and he's a fixture at Rockmount Ranch Wear Mfg. Co., a Denver institution. And Wednesday, he lazed in the glow of the big bust that put three people in jail on felony theft charges.

Police are looking for a fourth person, and several others were questioned but released, Denver police Lt. Matthew Murray said, because investigators could not establish that they actually were involved in the fraudulent transactions. The group is believed to have carried out the scam as they rode a bus from Florida to Colorado, making large purchases with worthless credit cards.

"We caution all businesses about high-dollar transactions," Murray said. "If it doesn't feel right, don't do it."

For one store owner, it didn't feel right Monday afternoon.

A young, thin, tattooed man was at the counter at Rockmount, 1626 Wazee St., trying to buy more than $1,000 worth of boots and shirts. His credit card was rejected, Rockmount president Steve Weil said.

The man tried to persuade Rockmount to take a fraudulent authorization code, but instead the store placed a call to the number on the back of the card. As he waited to get an actual human on the line, the customer grew agitated, grabbed the credit card and left.

A little later, Weil finally was connected with someone, and he was told the credit card was no good. Another employee who overheard the exchange told Weil that a group of four had been in the day before with a similar credit card they used to purchase $1,500 in shirts, boots and socks. Weil called the police but said he was told there was little chance they'd be able to find the perpetrators.

Enter Wazee.

Weil set out Tuesday afternoon with his Lab and one of his employees, Gretchen Bunn, for a walk. As they approached the Oxford Hotel, 1600 17th St., Bunn suggested they duck inside and get Wazee a biscuit. Weil at first demurred, fearing he would be fostering a daily habit for his four-legged friend, but Bunn insisted.

Wazee bounded up to the counter, ready for a treat.

Just then, a young man walked through the lobby who reminded Weil of the guy he'd dealt with the day before. Weil asked the Oxford clerk about him and was told he was part of a group that had four rooms and had paid for them with a credit card in a transaction that, in hindsight, seemed fishy. The descriptions of the others sounded like the same people who had been in his store and successfully made off with $1,500 in merchandise.

"We compared notes rapidly," Weil said.

They called Denver police. The next thing Weil knew, he, Bunn and workers at the Oxford were detaining a group of people, who apparently figured out the jig was up and were trying to leave the Oxford with large suitcases stuffed with merchandise.

"My adrenaline was pumping," Weil said.

At one point, Weil got a glance through the open doors to the rooms the group had been staying in for several days. He said they were strewn with boxes and bags from area stores, including Apple and Overland Sheepskin.

The group shopped Overland Sheepskin, 1512 Larimer St., Sunday evening, said associate Bruce Briggs.

"They had a huge pile of coats, hats, footwear," said Briggs, who said they successfully purchased more than $4,000 worth of merchandise with a worthless credit card.

"Catching them was a simple random miracle, but it shows we have good karma," Weil said. "These people are a scourge."

Police identified those arrested as Jerome James Holt, 24, of Baltimore; Anthony Clifton Sykes, 20, also of Baltimore, who Weil said was wearing a shirt from Rockmount in his police mug shot; and Michael Allen Johnson, 19, who police believe gave a false identity.

In addition, investigators are searching for a fourth suspect, described as a transgender African-American who stands 6 feet tall, may weigh as much as 300 pounds and is using the name Jacquelyn Hughes.

Read more: Three arrested in credit-card scam in Denver, thanks to dog and eagle eye - The Denver Post



Denver Police Department mug shot

 Anthony Clifton Sykes


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