People pretending to be members of Laci Peterson's family ran up hotel bills and paid with stolen credit cards, authorities reported Wednesday.
The scheme was one part of an identity theft ring that operated around Northern California and claimed at least 12 victims, authorities said.
Two Modestans have been charged, said Carol Shipley, assistant district attorney for Stanislaus County. "We believe there are others still involved in the ring," she added.
Investigators said they do not think that ring members actually stole credit cards from any of Peterson's relatives.
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Instead, the ring members claimed to be family while charging hotel rooms, along with telephone calls, meals and movies, from Feb. 27 through March 6. That was shortly after hundreds of volunteers joined Laci Peterson's family for the last in a series of Saturday searches.
The thieves were likely playing on sympathy, an investigator said, at a time when Peterson, 27 and pregnant, was still missing.
"They probably believed that in dropping those names, they would get less scrutiny" when paying with stolen credit cards, said Marc Burrell, an investigator with the district attorney's office.
He said hotel personnel might not have done everything possible to verify the accounts and the identities of the cardholders. For example, he said, hotels could have asked for identification to see if it matched the account information.
Shipley said she could not immediately provide the names of the hotels that incurred fraudulent charges in the Peterson impersonation scam.
The identity theft ring dealt in more than credit cards, Shipley said.
In victimizing a charity, she said, the ring falsely registered two cars -- a 1986 Nissan Sentra and a 1988 Lincoln Mark VII -- in the charity's name. Shipley said she could not immediately provide the charity's name.
The ring also allegedly used stolen credit card information to buy auto parts and to rent trucks.
The investigation led to a search warrant and three arrests May 2 at a Modesto home, though authorities said one of the arrests was unrelated to the ID theft ring.
Shipley identified Kimberly Sue Brown, 33, and Samuel Torres, 40, as the two suspects arrested in the identity theft case. She said they face charges that include conspiracy and unauthorized credit card use. Both are free on bail.
While serving the search warrant, investigators seized "stacks of fraudulent and stolen ID cards, credit cards and DMV documents," as well as computers, according to a press release from the district attorney's office.
Investigators also reported finding credit card authorization forms, which appeared to have been used to rent hotel rooms, and at least one form carried the wording "family of Laci Peterson."
Shipley said investigators found computer printouts, taken from hotels, that listed guests' names and credit card numbers.
Investigators had not determined whether someone working at one or more hotels was involved in the ring or whether the records were taken from trash, she said.
The district attorney's office is asking to hear from potential victims or anyone with information about the case. Calls should be directed to investigators Marc Burrell or Ken Reid, 558-4495.
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