At his office on North Upper Street, Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson read a letter from a woman whose car was broken into recently.
She had parked at Lexington Green shopping center, leaving her handbag in the car. When she returned, her window was smashed, her handbag gone. Later, she learned the thief had used her credit card four times.
When the thief was caught, he told police he recently had been released from prison for similar crimes, and he was under supervision from the state's Department of Probation and Parole.
The Fayette commonwealth's attorney's office prosecutes a few high-dollar, high-profile cases each year, but the majority are crimes of opportunity committed by repeat offenders with no more ambition than a typical copper thief.
"You're talking about a frustrated kind of cat here," Larson said.
Prosecutors handle about 30 or 40 financial crimes cases a month, mostly credit card theft, forgeries and embezzlements from businesses, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Andrea Mattingly said. Many fraud crimes are connected with other crimes, such as robbery and burglary.
For example, burglars often look for credit cards or checkbooks along with cash, guns and electronics while rifling through a victim's home, Mattingly said. A fraudulent purchase on a stolen credit card adds to the pain of someone who is coping with a break-in, she said.
In Kentucky, financial crimes are classified as "non-violent property offenses," and they overwhelmingly result in little or no jail time, Larson said.
For seasoned financial criminals, serving a short sentence or being put on probation is just the cost of doing business.
"There's no reason for them not to commit crimes, because they know, 'I can steal $100,000 and I'll go spend a year in prison and, fine, I'll do it again when I get out,'" Larson said.
Lexington police detectives said many of the people they arrest for financial crimes are familiar faces.
"I can't tell you how many times we see the same people come through here over and over again," Detective Gene Haynes said. "They're always repeat offenders because it's so easy to do all this stuff."
Court documents in several recent cases show a pattern of light sentences and repeat offenses.
In March 2011, a sharp-eyed employee at Meijer noticed something strange about three men buying iPods. He called police, who found about 80 forged credit cards in their car.
The arrest of the three Chinese nationals -- Le Yu, Lei Tian and Liye Zhei -- made headlines at the time, but little was reported on the case after it was transferred to federal court later in the year.
On Feb. 3, the men pleaded guilty to identity theft and were released from custody after spending less than a year in jail. Yu, Tian and Zhei all were sentenced to time served and were ordered to pay about $10,000 each in restitution.
In another case, Alden Sears, a pizza delivery man, stole financial information from more than 100 customers who paid him by check or credit card, according to court documents. He used some of the information to buy merchandise online, including expensive face cream, toothpaste and cigarettes, said Mattingly, who prosecuted the case.
Police tracked down Sears in 2008 after tracing an Internet protocol address that made fraudulent purchases at Findcigs.com and 2checkout.com, according to court documents. After executing a search warrant, they found a notebook Sears used to keep track of his purchases; Sears would use one victim's name, another victim's financial information and a third victim's address for each purchase.
"It was really complex for the police to track all of that," she said.
A jury found Sears guilty of 20 counts of identity theft, fraud and other charges in September 2009; Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael sentenced him to 10 years in prison. He was paroled in less than two years and had recently applied for a job at another pizza parlor, Mattingly said.
Kokou Kuakumensah, who recently was sentenced in federal court to eight years in prison on several counts of fraud, was caught last year using cloned credit cards to buy goods in Lexington, Detective Mike Helsby said.
While Kuakumensah was out of jail on bond, police received a report from the Community Alternative Program, which monitors suspects on pretrial release, that the tracking device in Kuakumensah's ankle monitor indicated that he was at a department store.
Police went to the store and arrested Kuakumensah; he was using more cloned credit cards, Helsby said.
Stolen credit cards, forged checks and other types of common financial crimes aren't as prevalent as property crimes such as burglaries, larcenies and metal theft, but they're a growing problem, prosecutors said.
Mattingly said people should constantly check their bank statements and credit scores to make sure someone isn't using their information illegally.
It can happen to anyone; it even happened to Mattingly, who investigates and prosecutes financial crimes. A couple years ago, she said, someone stole her credit card number after she made an online purchase.
Financial crimes are a nuisance at best, but they can lead to financial ruin, especially when they happen to elderly people who don't have a lifetime to recoup their losses.
"It doesn't typically destroy the victim, but it definitely causes a huge hardship," she said. "A lot of people, especially nowadays, live paycheck to paycheck, so any deviation from your bank account is a hardship."
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