An identity theft ring that defrauded as many as 100 victims and reaped as much as $300,000 worth of merchandise has been shut down.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced the capture of one of three sisters who headed the ring that preyed on hospital patients and unsuspecting store clerks.
"The key people involved in this scheme took advantage of anyone they could -- from victims who had no idea to clerks who were accused of racism for questioning their credit applications," Dart said in a press release.
Shikila Blount, 29, of Chicago was arrested Wednesday at her home in the 600 block of East Woodland Park.
Her sisters -- Laqueshia Holmes, 25, and Tijuana Leonard, 33, and a third woman, Selina Hayes, 18, are still at large and considered fugitives.
Six others were arrested in "Operation Quick Charge," a five-month investigation headed by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office’s Financial Crimes Unit.
They include: Dorothy Brown, 20, of Chicago; Tangie Strickland, 18, of Chicago; Tolanda Hampton, 35, of Mt. Vernon; Shamara Bright, 22, of Chicago; Crystal Cannon-Kariuki, 30, of Chicago; and Eartricca Johnson, 26, of Centralia.
Blount and Brown were charged with continuing a financial criminal enterprise. Bonds were set at $200,000 for Blount and $100,000 for Brown on Thursday.
Bright and Strickland were charged with felony theft. Bright was ordered held on $90,000 and Strickland on $30,000.
Hampton was already incarcerated on a $40,000 bond for burglary.
Cannon-Kariuki and Johnson will appear in bond court Friday. Both are charged with continuing a financial criminal enterprise.
The crimes started when Leonard took a temporary job with Millard Cleaning Service and was assigned to the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation. There, Leonard mined the confidential information of patients in at the facility and had her sisters and other accomplices apply for credit in their name or asked to be added to their existing accounts, authorities said.
Then they went on shopping sprees.
"They took orders before they headed out for ‘shopping trips’ and returned with thousands of dollars in merchandise. Those whose credit was being destroyed had no idea any of it was going on," said Dart.
Those involved in the scheme got credit 285 times at Sears, 72 times at Victoria’s Secret, 46 times at The Room Place and 27 times at Express, among others, authorities said.
When investigators entered Blount’s apartment, they said it resembled a warehouse with stolen merchandise. Televisions, computers, clothing and jewelry were seized by investigators during the arrest processes.
"This is one of the most blatant identity theft rings I've see." "This ring had it down to a science, it was like a job they performed," said U.S. Postal Inspector Tom Brady.
Dart said that while the ring is appalling, so is the ease with which they gained credit.
"Store clerks felt pressure from those in the ring and from their own supervisors to approve credit on the spot without question," Dart said. "It’s horribly frightening to hear how easy it is for these criminals to add their own names to victim’s accounts."
Late Thursday, Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation acknowledged the breach.
"We take patient privacy and the guarding of patient identifying information very seriously and are working closely with the Sheriff’s Department to identify possible victims," the foundation said in a written statement.
Patients with questions may call 312-695-4757.
It's unlikely that there are any ongoing victims of the identity theft ring, Cook County Sheriff's Spokesman Steve Patterson said. Still, anyone who does a credit check and believes they were victimized can contact the financial crime's unit at 708-865-5188.