BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A Salem couple who had paid off their Home Depot credit card years ago were among the victims of a nationwide identity theft ring whose leader is currently awaiting federal sentencing, according to court documents.
And one of the associates of that ring will spend the next two years on probation, repaying nearly $10,000 to the home improvement chain for transactions she admitted making by using the Salem couple’s personal information.
Cynthia Ellis, 42, of 23 Tracey St., Peabody, pleaded guilty to seven counts each of identity fraud and credit card fraud, and a charge of felony larceny by single scheme during a hearing Wednesday in Salem District Court.
The sentence was the result of a plea agreement reached between her attorney, Mark McNally, and prosecutor Michelle DeCourcey.
But Judge Robert Brennan warned Ellis that should she violate her probation, she faces substantial jail time.
DeCourcey told the judge that the couple went to police in January 2012 after discovering that there was suddenly a balance of nearly $13,000 on the Home Depot card they had paid off long ago.
An investigation determined that someone had been using the wife’s Social Security number and a phony driver’s license issued in the woman’s name, with what turned out to be Ellis’ photo, to make charges to the account for thousands of dollars worth of gift cards, DeCourcey said.
Salem police, led by Detective Dennis Gaudet, obtained surveillance photos of the transactions and put out images of the people making the transactions.
A Billerica House of Corrections guard recognized William Dodge in one of the photos. Dodge had been charged by police in both Framingham and Peabody with credit card fraud.
Dodge, 45, of Peabody, has pleaded guilty to federal credit card fraud and identity fraud charges that involved victims and stores all over the country. He is awaiting sentencing in U.S. District Court next month.
The couple attended Wednesday’s hearing with Gaudet.
DeCourcey told the judge that they were concerned that their personal information has been compromised and could be used by others in the future.
“I fully appreciate that these are not victimless crimes,” Brennan said. “They take an enormous toll on victims,” not only on their sense of security but in the time that is spent sorting out credit issues.
Brennan warned Ellis that if she fails to complete her probation, “you have a lot of time hanging over your head.”
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.