Diamond dealer, seven others charged in ID-theft scam

A Dallas diamond dealer was arrested August 19 on organized-crime charges alleging he laundered more than $100,000 in high-quality diamonds stolen by a local identity-theft ring, The Dallas Morning News reports.

According to court records, diamond and jewelry dealer Michael Burke purchased the high-dollar diamonds from thieves who stole credit card information and purchased the stones from Internet retailers across the country, the newspaper reports. If convicted of the first-degree felony charge, he could face five to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Burke is one of eight people indicted in the identity-theft ring, the newspaper reports. Also indicted in the scheme were Thomas Gaither, Jeff Wittman, Rodney Williams, Bryan Wildman, Bryan Heifner, Shannon Fuentes and Jessica Cliby. Cliby reportedly pleaded guilty to theft charges earlier this year and received five years’ probation in exchange for her cooperation with the remaining prosecutions.

The thieves began their fraud by rummaging through trash containers for credit card receipts behind an Oak Lawn store, the newspaper reports, the newspaper reports.

They used the card numbers to purchase diamonds using a prepaid mobile phone, arranging to either pick up the stones from UPS offices or intercepting the packages as they were being delivered to the homes of the people whose identity had been stolen.

At New York-based Internet diamond dealer diamondsafe.com, Marcy Friedman said the thieves used stolen credit cards in March 2002 to buy an $18,000 ring setting that included a “fancy yellow” diamond that measured more than 4 cts, the newspaper reports.

Several months later, Friedman said the same person called back and tried to make a $10,000 purchase, but she recognized his voice.

“I acted like nothing was wrong,” she reportedly said. “I took the order and contacted the Secret Service.”

In that case, a Secret Service agent disguised as a delivery driver attempted to deliver an empty box, but the suspects never picked it up.

Sam Hanna, owner of Midwest Diamond Imports, lost a $15,000 diamond in the scam, the newspaper reports.

Court documents charge that Burke paid the other suspects $173,700 for approximately 40 stolen diamonds, the newspaper reports. The documents charge that he sold the jewelry to other retailers nationwide.

“He was probably buying those stones at 50 percent below what they should have been–he knew those stones were coming from an illegal activity,” Hanna reportedly said. “We all know how much diamonds are worth and what we’re gong to pay for them and what we can sell them for.”