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Feds Bust Identity-Theft Ring

SEATTLE (AP) -- Federal agents say they have broken up an identity theft ring that drained $750,000 from local banks.

Investigators from the FBI, the Seattle Police Department and the Social Security Administration arrested six people around Seattle and two in Los Angeles on Thursday. They are accused of stealing the identities of more than 200 people.

"We have real people whose identities have been used to open fraudulent bank accounts and lines of credit," said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Barbosa.

The consequences could haunt the victims for years to come. When the victims make credit applications or conduct financial transactions, they may face having to extricate themselves from the trail of deceit left by those who stole their names, Barbosa said.

"They made a lot of money; they hurt a lot of people," said Special Agent in Charge Ron Legan of the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General.

Legan said more arrests are possible.

Alleged ring leaders Gary Williams and Monica Jones are accused of recruiting "runners" to open checking, savings and credit accounts or to access existing accounts at various banks and stores using a bogus driver's license.

Williams is accused of sending the photographs of runners along with legitimate identity information of victims to the two people in Los Angeles, who turned the material into realistic-looking California driver's licenses, which were then sent back to Williams.

One investigator said the ring took advantage of lapses in bank security. The runners would then deposit bad checks into the accounts and later withdraw funds from the accounts at ATMs before the bad checks were returned for insufficient funds.

Investigators have had members of the ring under surveillance over the past year.

An affidavit by FBI Special Agent Linda Frocht details one incident in which Seattle police detectives watched Williams leave Jones' house and drive to a gasoline station in West Seattle, where he tossed a white bag into a garbage container.

The detectives retrieved the bag, which contained numerous papers and identity documents that had been shredded, the affidavit said. The documents were pieced together and found to include a variety of account transactions from Washington Mutual, Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union and the Bank of America bearing the names of a several victims as well as a counterfeit California driver's license in the name of a victim but bearing Monica Jones' picture, according to the affidavit.

The names and account numbers of the victims in the bag allegedly tossed by Williams can be linked to fraudulent transactions conducted by five members of the ring arrested Thursday, the affidavit said.

U.S. Magistrate Monica Benton ordered Williams, Jones and the other four local defendants held pending a hearing Tuesday.

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