News and Press Releases

Albuquerque Woman Pleads Guilty to
Aggravated Identity Theft Charges

Defendant and Her Accomplice Stole More than $140,000 by Cashing
Counterfeit Checks at Wal-Mart Stores in Five States

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 16, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE – Shelly Nichols, 42, of Albuquerque, N.M., pleaded guilty this morning to identity theft and aggravated identity theft charges.  Nichols’s guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales and Richard Ferretti, Resident Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque Resident Office of the U.S. Secret Service.

Nichols, who is now known by her married name Shelly Lopez, and her co-defendant, Donna Gabaldon, 41, of Rio Rancho, N.M., were charged in March 2012, in a 60-count indictment alleging identity theft, passing counterfeit checks with the intent to deceive bank officials, and aggravated identity theft charges. 

During this morning’s proceedings, Nichols pleaded guilty to one count of identity theft and two counts of aggravated identity theft.  Nichols admitted that from Oct. 2009 through June 2010, she and Gabaldon cashed fake payroll checks at Wal-Mart stores in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Texas.  According to the plea agreement, Nichols created fake drivers’ licenses with false names, addresses and license numbers that had photographs of herself or Gabaldon on them.  Nichols also created fake checks made payable to the individuals identified in the fake drivers’ licenses.  Nichols and Gabaldon then used the fake drivers’ licenses to cash the fake checks at Wal-Mart stores.  When cashing the fake checks, Nichols and Gabaldon used the social security numbers of real people who did not know the women were using their social security numbers and had not given them permission to do so.  Gabaldon gave Nichols half of the money that she obtained from cashing the fake checks.

In her plea agreement, Nichols admitted that Gabaldon and she fraudulently received at least $141,233.57 by cashing fake payroll checks at Wal-Mart stores.  Nichols and Gabaldon obtained additional cash and other items of value by making purchases using fake personal checks that Nichols printed.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Nichols will be sentenced to 25 months in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release.  Nichols also will have to pay $141,233.57 in restitution to the victims of her criminal conduct.  The restitution is to be paid jointly by Nichols and Gabaldon.  Nichols also will forfeit a 2009 Hummer, computers and other electronic equipment.  Nichols remains on conditions of release pending her sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

Gabaldon pleaded guilty on May 25, 2012, to two counts of aggravated identity theft.  On Sept. 19, 2012, Gabaldon was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by a year of supervised release.

“Shelly Nichols was a top five Property Crime Offender in the city of Albuquerque and State of New Mexico when she was arrested in this case,” said Richard Ferretti, Resident Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque Resident Office of the U.S. Secret Service.  “Identity theft related investigations are a top priority of the U.S. Secret Service in Albuquerque, and we work closely with our partners in the Albuquerque Financial Crimes Task Force to aggressively investigate, arrest, and prosecute those committing these crimes.”

            U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales commended the U.S. Secret Service special agents who investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia L. Weisman who prosecuted the case.

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