BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — PEABODY — A Peabody man has been charged by federal prosecutors with leading a massive identity fraud ring that allegedly used the personal information of dozens of employees of a Florida business, as well as others, to rack up at least $368,000 in fraudulent credit card charges in 30 states.
William Dodge, 45, made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court on Monday, where he agreed to remain held without bail pending a detention hearing on May 6, according to court papers.
The scheme targeted national retail chains, where many consumers either already had existing credit accounts or whose personal information was used to open new accounts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Dodge and his co-conspirators would go into stores with phony identification cards that looked like driver’s licenses, pretend to have left their store credit card at home and ask to make the charge using the stolen personal details on the “license” to make the purchase, prosecutors allege. If it turned out that the person whose name was being used didn’t have an account, Dodge and his associates would open a new account using the stolen information, according to prosecutors.
They would allegedly purchase gift cards, electronics and other items that had resale value.
Among the stores where the fraud took place was J.C. Penney, Best Buy, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Kohl’s, Macy’s and T.J. Maxx.
Dodge was first arrested on Dec. 10 by Peabody police, after he and his girlfriend, not identified in court documents, used an identification card bearing the name of a Florida man to obtain credit at the J.C. Penney store, then selected nearly $1,200 worth of items from the Sephora cosmetics section within the store, according to an affidavit.
Peabody police stopped the pair as they drove away from the Northshore Mall, arrested them, and discovered that Dodge was carrying a “novelty” license with his own photo and the Florida man’s information.
They also searched the SUV, turning up a notebook containing the personal information of 49 people, most of whom worked for the Florida company.
Investigators later learned that the pair had allegedly made similar fraudulent purchases at other area stores, including Best Buy in Danvers.
Meanwhile, investigators for the company, which is not named in court documents, discovered that Dodge had once dated a woman who worked in the firm’s human resources department.
The Pensacola, Fla., woman later told an FBI agent that she had sometimes brought work home with her while Dodge was living with her, including a pension “census report.”
Such a report would provide an identity thief a mother lode of information, including Social Security numbers, dates of birth and salaries.
Seven pages of such a report were later found in Dodge’s vehicle after a second arrest, in Framingham, in February.
Dodge claimed to investigators that he had paid his former girlfriend $3,000 for the information. He also claimed that he had been working with people in Lawrence, Peabody and Florida who purchased items from him.
Dodge also used the identification of some of his victims to obtain medical care, prosecutors allege.
Police were following the couple in February as they and a third person went to a Boston shop that sold the novelty identifications. They were followed to Framingham, where they went into a Best Buy to purchase $3,160 in items. They were arrested again after that incident.
In addition to the pension report, the couple had 37 false identification cards, with their pictures and the names of other employees.
Dodge’s girlfriend, who has not been charged federally, told investigators that Dodge kept the proceeds of his own transactions, plus received a 50 percent cut of whatever the other members of the ring obtained and sold.
The couple had apparently been preparing to return to Florida before their arrest; Dodge’s girlfriend told police that she had purchased train tickets to use “after they did this score,” according to court papers.
At least 89 employees of the Florida business, as well as seven other individuals, were victimized by the scheme, prosecutors allege.
Investigators believe that Dodge made at least $184,043 himself through the scheme, using 46 identities over the period between last June and February, when he was arrested.
The federal complaint charges him with aggravated identity theft, conspiracy and access device fraud.
If convicted of all charges, Dodge could face up to 17 years in prison, as well as fines of up to $750,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.