What started as a credit card fraud investigation in North Carolina has led to the seizure of $250,000 to $300,000 worth of computer equipment at a home in Fort Mitchell, Ala., Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said.
Boxes containing Passport computer hard drives, overhead projectors and even a few Toyota car parts were displayed on a table during a 4:30 p.m. news conference.
“We found out that some of these items that came to the address in Fort Mitchell have already been sent on to some out of the country addresses,” Taylor said. “These things here were probably headed for the same location or destination.”
The sheriff said warrants are pending on the person in Russell County, but a name will not be released until an arrest is made.
“We are certainly trying to work with the federal government in making some other arrests,” Taylor said. “Those arrests are going to be linked to international syndicates that may or may not even be on U.S. soil.”
The sheriff said the investigation started over the last two weeks after Assistant Police Chief James Jones of the Bryson City, N.C., department contacted the sheriff’s office about identity theft from a doctor in that city. The doctor’s name was on a purchase order sent to the address in Fort Mitchell.
Computer equipment was ordered using the doctor’s credit card and sent to the home in Russell County, Jones said.
“That is when I contacted the Russell County Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “It quickly turned into what you see here.I think we had two or three phone calls about this matter. I definitely didn’t know we would find all this, but the Russell County Sheriff’s Department acted quickly. Now we are knee deep into this matter.”
The computer equipment shipped using the doctor’s credit card wasn’t at the home when Russell County authorities raided the home.
“That equipment was shipped to Fort Mitchell and that person there shipped it on some where else,” Taylor said. “We got the records to show that. We believe what you see here is what has not been shipped to other locations. There are connections all over the place and specifically in Detroit.”Jones said it is still a mystery how the doctor’s credit card information was obtained. “How exactly these people obtained that number I do not know yet,” the chief said.
Taylor said there is a national syndicate working to obtain credit card information to fraudulent obtain computer equipment.
The victims of the fraudulent purchase orders were ASI, a computer company in New York, and Office Depot, a national office products company.
“Those purchase orders were fraudulent and fake,” the sheriff said. “We are working with those companies to get this equipment back to them. Certainly in my 26 years of law enforcement, this would be the largest computer recovery of items I have ever seen in my time from anybody in this area especially.”
Authorities don’t know where the equipment was headed from the Fort Mitchell region. Brent Hopkins, an investigator for the sheriff’s office, said one of the countries is Nigeria. “There has been some other countries we think they are just transfer spots,” he said. “They are not the final location where the product is going to go.”
The combined storage of the seized hard drives is huge, but officials aren’t sure how the equipment would be used. It is unknown whether the items would be sent to a black market for resale at some high price in a part of the world where the computer equipment is not available.
Taylor said the investigation would be ongoing for another week, working with authorities in North Carolina and the federal government.