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A pair of West Side women were charged Thursday with scheming to defraud Chicago area utility companies.
Artestine Ramey, 61, was the alleged mastermind behind a scam, in which she and an accomplice would setup accounts with utility companies using identities often stolen from disabled people and nursing home residents, police said Thursday.
Ramey and her 24-year-old granddaughter, Jessica Washington, both of the 4100 block of West Potomac Avenue, have been arrested and charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from People's Gas and ComEd, according to Harrison Area Detective Sgt. Joe Petrenko.
"Like all businesses, the costs of the thefts have been passed on to those who pay bills and play by the rules," said police Cmdr. Tony Riccio.
Ramey somehow had the identities of victims who are disabled or in nursing homes -- whose credit was fine -- and used them to set up accounts, police said.
When she would call the utility, she would claim to be that disabled person but have the service provided at the "real" customer's address. The people who couldn't get accounts on their own would pay a fee to Ramey, explained Petrenko.
"They would call up the offender Ramey and explain their situation. She would use the stolen identities and she would contact the utility company and set up the fraudulent accounts," he said.
"The identity theft victim never had a clue. It’s incredible. Just based on the fact that people who were residents of nursing homes were the victims," the sergeant said.
Petrenko said it took two long years to finally nab them.
“It was just a matter of sticking with it and following up on various leads ... and it led to [Ramey]," Petrenko said.
The sergeant said the investigation is not over but would not say if there are looking for more suspects.
The investigation started when People's Gas notified police about an individual opening hundreds of gas accounts by using the identities of unsuspecting victims.
Police said most of the victims were seniors, nursing home residents and disabled persons, according to the release. Early in the investigation, detectives discovered ComEd was experiencing similar thefts, with the vast majority of identity theft victims being seniors.
The investigation ultimately led to issuance of a search warrant, and documents seized indicated widespread identity theft, according to the release.
"[Ramey] has not only victimized these utility companies, she has taken advantage of hundreds of elderly and disabled people who have had their credit destroyed," Cook County State's Atty. Anita Alvarez said in a statement.
Artestine Ramey is charged with one count of felony theft over $500,000 and under $1 million, one count of felony theft over $300 and under $10,000, 21 counts of aggravated identity theft and six counts of identity theft, according to police.
Jessica Washington faces one count of forgery and one count of aggravated identity theft.