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Pierce County woman charged in bill-paying scam

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on May 31, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
May 31, 2011 1:24 pm

Pierce County prosecutors have charged a 28-year-old woman with being an alleged leader of a fraud ring that is thought to have bilked military exchanges, Tacoma Public Utilities and other businesses out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise and services.

Jannie Lee is being held in the Pierce County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Lee is charged with leading organized crime, two counts of first-degree identity theft, two counts of first-degree theft, two counts of second-degree identity theft and one count of second-degree perjury.

Not guilty pleas were entered on her behalf in Superior Court last week.

Prosecutors contend Lee and others used an ill-gotten commercial banking account number to pay credit card balances and other bills for people they recruited into the scheme. As many as 1,800 people might have been part of the fraud, investigators said.

In Lee’s case, “customers” would pay her half the amount of their bill balances, either in cash or electronic merchandise like iPads or cameras, court documents indicate.

Lee then would use the illegal banking account number to go online and pay their bills in full, records show.

The scheme played out for two years before the company that owns the account caught on last summer.

One person who used Lee to pay her bills told detectives Lee claimed to be from a wealthy family who helped people pay off their credit card balances and other debts “as a tax write-off,” the records state.

“Some of the payments from the compromised account were to pay Lee’s criminal citations,” court records show.

In one case, “Lee paid more than what was owed on the citation … then asked the court clerk for a refund,” documents indicate.

Lee recruited people, including a number of soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, into the scheme through MySpace, Facebook, Craigslist and at barbecues, bars and other get-togethers, court records state. More than 75 soldiers are being investigated, and some have already been charged in the military judicial system.

Investigators talked to 18 people who used Lee to pay their bills for them, but there may be more, records show.

“Lee also was reported to have numerous people working with her, collecting money and soliciting new ‘customers,’” according to the court documents.

 

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