Carbondale police arrested three suspects last week in a massive case of credit card fraud which eventually involved both the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Carbondale police arrested three suspects last week in a massive case of credit card fraud which eventually involved both the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The events which led to the arrest began unfolding at around 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 18, when two black females walked into Convenient Food Mart and purchased $2,800 worth of cigarettes and tobacco products using Visa gift cards.
The gift cards were scanned and approved as valid, but store owner John Regal told police on Dec. 20 that he was later notified by Wells Fargo and Gesa Credit Union that the cards were fraudulent.  He was also informed that someone had been using fraudulent Visa gift cards throughout the area as part of an extensive scamming operation.
Sgt. Joseph Laguzzi, who filed the affidavit in the case along with Det. Sgt. Jesse Van Deusen, told the NEWS that police started contacting local businesses and found that several of them had been victimized as well.  The same two black females had purchased enormous amounts of cigarettes at these other stores using Visa gift cards which scanned as valid, including a purchase of about $1,300 from the Turkey Hill Mini-Mart on Belmont Street.
Laguzzi noted that police were able to obtain photos of the two suspects from video surveillance footage which was provided by both Convenient and Turkey Hill.  He said police also got a picture of the vehicle they were driving, a white 2008 Dodge Magnum station wagon.
Police suspected that the two females were somehow connected to a chaotic, high-speed car chase that took place from Archbald into Carbondale on Dec. 15.  That incident occurred when Sheryl Wiley, 38, of Philadelphia attempted to use fake credit cards at the Burlington Coat Factory, then attacked a clerk and fled the scene.  She was apprehended and arrested after leading police on the wild chase.
“At that point, we knew that we had something pretty big going on,” Laguzzi said of the case, which both the Carbondale patrol division and the detectives division worked on together.
In the case of the two unidentified black females, Laguzzi noted that the suspects were taking information from stolen credit cards and reapplying it to gift cards.  He said that was probably being done because ID is not required at stores when using gift cards.
This particular type of credit card scheme was something new for Carbondale police, he offered.
“We’ve seen our share of stolen credit card schemes in the past, but we’ve never seen a case where the suspects have been able to manipulate the cards in such a way that they would be accepted by store scanning systems as valid,” he pointed out.  For that reason, he said both the Secret Service and the FBI became interested in the case and got involved at different points.
On Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 22, police received a report of two black females attempting to purchase cigarettes with a Visa gift card at the Turkey Hill store in Forest City.  However, the clerk recognized their description from a bulletin distributed a couple days earlier by the Carbondale Police Department and refused to sell the cigarettes to them, so the two suspects left the store.
Laguzzi stated that he and fellow officers were en route to the Forest City store when they spotted the white Dodge Magnum traveling in the opposite direction along Belmont St., heading into Carbondale.  He said they didn’t want to try to pull the vehicle over because of the Archbald car chase incident a week earlier.
“If we attempted to pull them over, they were probably going to try to run us,” he explained.  “We had a lot of traffic there on Belmont Street and in town, with Gentex just letting out and workers heading home, and it being just a couple days before Christmas, so the last thing we wanted was a high-speed chase through the downtown area.” 
Instead, as their vehicle was approaching the stop sign at the Medicine Shoppe, Laguzzi said he cut them off with his squad car from the front and another police car closed them in from behind.
“We made a felony stop there at the intersection and took them at gunpoint,” he related.
He said a black male exited the vehicle and was taken into custody, but at first the two females refused to get out — creating what he called “a very tense couple of minutes.”
“We weren’t sure if they were trying to access a weapon or destroying evidence in the vehicle, and the suspect we already had in custody [the black male] didn’t speak English very fluently, so it turned into a stand-off,” Laguzzi noted.
Eventually, the two women surrendered as well, and all three suspects were transported to police headquarters.  They were identified as Keita Diango, 28, a New York City resident on a student visa from Mali, and Lakeshia Robinson, 24, and Jennifer Ferrell, 24, both of Philadelphia.
The suspects were interviewed by the Secret Service and Det. Sgt. Van Deusen, and all three were arrested on charges of theft, access device fraud, and possessing instruments of crime.  Robinson and Ferrell were remanded to Lackawanna County Prison in lieu of $100,000 bail, while Diango was being held on $150,000 bail.
Meanwhile, Laguzzi said their vehicle was impounded and police recovered 43 gift cards from it, along with a GPS system.  
“They had all of the local stores from Forest City through the Mid-Valley programmed into the GPS system, and they were using it to go from store to store with the gift cards,” he related.
He said the case remains open and active, since authorities believe “someone much higher up” was responsible for re-magnetizing the cards.  In addition, he noted, they expect that more victims will be coming forward as other stores receive notification that the cards which were accepted by their scanning systems were actually fraudulent.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Laguzzi stated.  “We definitely feel that more arrests will be forthcoming from this case.”