SULPHUR SPRINGS — The story of how a theft suspect made the holidays extra special for some kids begins in Indiana and travels through Brandon and the West Shore district before it heads to Georgia and back south to Sulphur Springs.
It gets wrapped up at a place called the RICH House, where bad deeds led to good fortune — just not for the man police say stole identities and is responsible for it all.
The story starts on June 16 when someone acquired a Macy's credit account at Westfield Brandon using an Indiana man's name. The impersonator bought sunglasses, then moved to the Macy's at WestShore Plaza, where he bought $6,000 worth of Gucci watches. He drove a distance before Altamonte Springs police stopped him at 1:30 a.m. for a broken taillight.
In the back of his rented SUV, police found all sorts of merchandise with receipts that didn't match the man's identity.
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Weeks later, in mid July, Tampa police Officer Harry Augello received a phone call from a Macy's loss prevention officer. A man in Indiana had called the department chain wondering why he just received a store credit card with several thousand dollars already charged to it.
Augello reviewed videotape at the WestShore mall and spotted a suspect making the fraudulent charges. But Augello couldn't place him. Crime Stoppers received no tips and the case went inactive.
Five months later, an Altamonte Springs police detective called Augello. The detective had been piecing together the receipts from the stopped SUV. One traced back to Indiana and the same man with the stolen identity that Augello had tried to help.
The law officers traded information, which led to Tampa police and the Seminole County Sheriff's Office charging Faundsworth Bernard Jones, 41, with 19 counts of criminal use of personal identification information. They also charged him with one count each of scheme to defraud, fraudulent use of a credit card, grand theft and dealing in stolen property.
In one day, Augello said, Jones had made almost $30,000 in charges to Sears, Kmart, Best Buy, Macy's, Dick's Sporting Goods, Toys "R" Us, Babies "R" Us and Sports Authority.
"This is the guy's job," Augello said.
Detectives have also traced fraudulent accounts Jones opened at Home Depots in Orlando and Polk County, Augello said. Jones, who is from Houston, is being held in federal custody at the Irwin County Jail in Georgia, where he faces more charges.
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With Jones in custody, the question remained: What to do with the recovered merchandise? Most of the purchases were months old, too late to be voided and returned.
The people who had their identities stolen had "zero liability," said Anthony Mangieri, vice president of JP Morgan Chase & Co.
Much of what Jones is accused of stealing remains under investigation, but a few of the recovered items were released to creditors of the charge accounts Jones had used.
Chase bank and another creditor now owned new iPod Touches, PlayStation 3 consoles, PlayStation Portable devices and a 32-inch Samsung flat-screen TV. The items had a value of about $3,000.
Chase typically chalks up these sort of recovered items as losses and often donates them to charity, Mangieri said. So Chase asked Augello if he knew of any worthy groups.
Tampa police operate the Resources in Community Hope Center, or RICH House, at 8218 N Marks St. in Sulphur Springs. It's an abandoned drug duplex that police converted into a community and after-school center about four years ago. More than 100 neighborhood kids use the center daily, Tampa police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor said.
She suggested the electronics be donated there.
Last week, the donations arrived. The video game consoles and TV will stay at the center while three iPods and a PlayStation Portable player went to four Chamberlain High School students who volunteer at the RICH House.
Maria Carlyle, 17, helps pass out food donations.
Treneshia Williams, 16, tutors kids with their math homework.
Denyce Russell, 16, colors with the children.
Dee Russell, 17, plays football with the boys and tells them not to cuss.
None of the volunteers expected anything in return for their service, but this year, on Dec. 29, Christmas came late.
"I've never had an iPod, mp3 player, none of that," Denyce Russell said.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.