Maine parking lots fertile ground for identity-theft gang

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FALMOUTH — After speculation in December that a national ring may have been responsible for a series of vehicle break-ins in Freeport and Falmouth, police from Portland to Belfast now believe that theory is more likely and less speculative.

A Freeport resident who did not wish to be identified, but whose story was confirmed by several police sources, was one of the individuals whose car was broken into at Foreside Fitness in Falmouth. Days later, she said the thieves used personal information obtained from the car to steal her identity.

The victim attributed the robbery to the Felony Lane Gang, a national gang that began in Florida and travels the country. Members break into cars to steal purses and handbags containing credit cards, driver’s licenses, and other forms of identification that can be used to fraudulently cash checks.

The gang frequently breaks into cars parked at gyms, fitness centers and day-care centers where they stake out patrons as they park their cars. The Freeport robberies occurred at the YMCA on Old South Freeport Road in Freeport, and the two robberies in Falmouth occurred at Foreside Fitness on Route 1 on Dec. 18.

Freeport Police Department Detective Gino Bianchini said there were seven vehicle break-ins at the Freeport YMCA. Several of the victims have said money was stolen from their accounts, although he said identities were not necessarily stolen. He said Freeport police believe the crimes are the work of the Felony Lane Gang.

Bianchini confirmed a silver SUV with Texas license plates was seen the day of the Freeport break-ins and was called in as suspicious. He said it could be related, but police aren’t sure yet and haven’t found the vehicle.

The Freeport victim said the thieves have been cashing her checks in Maine and Florida.

“They have everything,” she said. “My checkbook, my license, my Social Security number because it was on my Red Cross card.”

Using checks they stole from another victim’s car at a Bethel YMCA, the thieves cashed checks from that victim to one of the thieves pretending to be the Freeport victim on Jan. 6 at a Bath Savings Bank drive-through in Brunswick.

Sgt. Martin Rinaldi of the Brunswick Police Department said the thieves used ID from the Freeport victim’s car to cash checks from the Bethel victim at the bank at 3 Pleasant St.

Rinaldi said he couldn’t say whether the case involves the Felony Lane Gang, only that other agencies suspect it may be. He said the investigation is continuing.

Days later the Freeport victim said she received a phone call from a Cash-A-Check in Hollywood, Florida, asking if she had written a check to a woman there named Jennifer Saint-Jeanne. She replied the woman was trying to steal money using her stolen identity. The woman in Florida reportedly fled.

“It’s scary,” the Freeport woman said. “I feel like they’re going to keep trying. They’re everywhere.”

Bianchini said while the gang has its origins in the south, it has lately been “working the East Coast hard.”

Falmouth Police Department Lt. John Kilbride said a detective working the case discovered there was also activity in Florida on one of the Foreside Fitness victim’s accounts.

“We’re talking with agencies across the country,” Kilbride said. He said they “hadn’t confirmed any involvement of the Felony Lane Gang,” but the department is educating itself on the gang’s operation.

In Portland on Jan. 6, two women drove up to the drive-through teller at the Norway Savings Bank on Forest Avenue in a car with Maryland plates. The two cashed a check stolen in Belfast, payable to the Freeport victim.

Sgt. Kevin Cashman of the Portland Police Department said they identified the women within 24 hours, thanks to citizens sending messages to the department on Facebook after police issued a photo of the women on Jan. 6. They have not released the names of the women, and are still trying to find them.

“We haven’t been able to charge anyone yet, and we want their side of the story,” Cashman said.

He said the detective on the case has spoken to other agencies both in and outside Maine, and that the case “sounds very similar to what’s going on,” in terms of the Felony Lane Gang. He also confirmed the forged checks were stolen from a car.

Rinaldi said the Brunswick Police believe the women in the photo from the Portland incident are the same ones who acted in Brunswick. He said a teller at the Brunswick bank identified one of the women as “likely the same,” but police have not made a positive identification.

Belfast Chief of Police Mike McFadden confirmed that one vehicle was burglarized at the Belfast YMCA, and that the officer investigating the case has been in touch with Falmouth police.

On Jan. 9, Sgt. Bryan Cunningham of the Belfast Police Department issued a press release saying the Belfast break-in was related to the Felony Lane Gang, because checks stolen in Belfast were cashed in southern Maine.

Bianchini, of the Freeport Police Department, urged people not to leave handbags, wallets, identifying information or valuables visible in cars. He said these items should be locked in trunks or carried inside. He said Felony Lane Gang members will survey an entire parking lot, but if they don’t see anything easily accessible, they will just leave.

“If you see something suspicious, get the plate number and call the police,” Bianchini said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Two women in a car with Maryland license plates were photographed Jan. 6 at Norway Savings Bank on Forest Avenue in Portland, where they cashed checks stolen from a car in Belfast and fraudulently made out to a woman from Freeport.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.