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Feb. 11, 2011

IDENTITY THIEF CONVICTED

(HOUSTON) – A Corpus Christi man who made thousands of dollars in purchases at Houston area retail stores using fraudulently-obtained credit cards has been convicted, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today. 

Richard Gaylon Conatser, 46, of Corpus Christi, pleaded guilty this morning to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.  Accepting the guilty pleas, United States District  Judge Melinda Harmon convicted  Conatser of both counts and has set sentencing for May 27, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.  Conatser faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for the conspiracy conviction to be followed by a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years for the aggravated identity theft conviction. Each count of conviction also carries a maximum $250,000 fine as well as court-ordered restitution to the dozens of individual victims whose identity was stolen and the banks which issued the credit cards.  Conatser will remain in federal custody without bond pending sentencing. 

Conatser was arrested on Oct. 8, 2010 by officers of the Houston Police Department (HPD) at a Kingwood residence. Police had recognized Conatser from surveillance video obtained from Best Buy, where items had been purchased using a credit card obtained in the name of a victim.  At the home, police seized multiple laptop computers, flash drives, laminating machines, credit card magnet readers, and other equipment used to make fraudulent forms of identification.  Police also discovered the personal identification information of dozens of victims on the laptop computer and in credit applications from a Kingwood area air conditioning and heating business, which were also seized during a search of the residence.   

Conatser used the personal information and fraudulent forms of identification to open credit accounts at several different retail stores in the Houston area, including Kohls, Sears, Home Depot, and Bass Pro Shops.  After being approved for credit in the victims’ names, Conatser purchased several thousands of dollars of merchandize, often being captured on video surveillance in the process.  In some cases, Conatser then sold the fraudulently-purchased items to another, who in turn sold the items within days on EBAY.

Geoffrey Michael Wentzel, 33, of Kingwood, also charged for his alleged involvement in this identity theft scheme, is pending trial before Judge Harmon on Feb. 28, 2011.  He is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.  

The ongoing investigation into this identity theft scheme is being conducted by several federal, state and local law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Secret Service, Houston Police Department, and the Texas Department of Public Safety.  Assistant United States Attorneys David Searle and Julie Searle are prosecuting the case.

 

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