News


Six People Arrested for Scheming to Defraud a Major Food Retailer

7/23/2007
 
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announces the arrests of six Lee County residents for operating a scheme to defraud the Publix Corporation, criminal use of personal identification information, and grand theft. FDLE special agents, United States Marshals, and United States Secret Service special agents arrested the following individuals during a roundup on Friday, July 20:

Lotonyo Denise Lyons, 25, is charged with scheme to defraud over $50,000 a first-degree felony, grand theft over $5,000 but less than $20,000 a third-degree felony, criminal use of personal ID information a second-degree felony.

Cassandra Faye Terrell, 23, is charged with scheme to defraud over $50,000 a first-degree felony, grand theft over $5,000 but less than $20,000 a third-degree felony.

Tameka Lashay Alexander, 25, is charged with scheme to defraud over $50,000 a first-degree felony, grand theft over $5,000 but less than $20,000 a third-degree felony.

Carolyn Elaine Mitchell, 45, is charged with scheme to defraud over $50,000 a first-degree felony, grand theft over $5,000 but less than $20,000 a third-degree felony, criminal use of personal ID information a second-degree felony.

The following individuals turned themselves into authorities on Saturday, July 21:

Melody Melinda Matthews-Chatman, 33, is charged with grand theft over $5,000 but less than $20,000 a third-degree felony.

Jenery Colon Ward, 35, is charged with scheme to defraud over $50,000 a first-degree felony, grand theft over $5,000 but less than $20,000 a third-degree felony.

Police are searching for Brandon Christopher Mitchell, 20, who is wanted on charges of scheme to defraud over $50,000 a first-degree felony, grand theft over $5,000 but less than $20,000 a third-degree felony.

All were the subjects of an eight-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Acting on information from the Publix Corporation, investigators were able to determine that Lyons, who was a Publix employee, began to deposit multiple fraudulent checks into her Publix Federal Credit Union (PFCU) account. At the time, Publix's policy allowed its own employees immediate access to the funds deposited.

Terrell, Alexander, and both Carolyn and Brandon Mitchell were also observed on camera at the PFCU in Sarasota making the 'deposits' into several accounts. The defendants would then use debit cards to make cash or money order withdrawals and purchases along the west coast of Florida. They purchased items such as plasma televisions, jewelry, automobile rims, and a Mitsubishi Galant with the illegal proceeds.

Lyons, Terrell, and Brandon Mitchell allegedly created PFCU accounts and all deposited fraudulent checks. Alexander was paid money by Brandon Mitchell to deposit some of the checks into his account. Lyons' mother, Carolyn Mitchell, drove with Lyons and wrote out thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks, and paid Terrell to make the deposits. Terrell and Ward then returned with the others to make additional deposits into Ward's account. Chatman utilized the information regarding the scheme to make fraudulent deposits and withdraw $15,000 from her own account.

Lyons then created an account at the PFCU in the name of a victim whose identification she obtained. Lyons, Carolyn Mitchell, Alexander, and Brandon Mitchell deposited $60,000 in one day into this victim's account. Lyons then withdrew all of the money within a two to three day period of time leaving the account in the negative. As of the date of the arrest, PFCU has lost more than $140,000 as a direct result of these defendants' activities. Publix has since instituted a change in their policy regarding checks and its employees' accessibility to funds.

The defendants will be prosecuted by Attorney General Bill McCollum's Office of Statewide Prosecution.

For more information, contact:
Sandi Copes
Press Secretary
Office of the Attorney General
(850) 245-0150

Trena Reddick
Public Information Officer
FDLE - Fort Myers
(813) 878-7239 or 878-7300