ST. GEORGE — Three people were arrested and their “fraud ring” was busted Saturday after a trooper from the Utah Highway Patrol pulled over an SUV for a traffic violation in St. George.
The incident started when the driver of an SUV, which was a rental car eight days overdue, committed a left-lane violation around noon on Interstate 15, UHP Sgt. Nick Street said in a statement. The car was pulled over, and it was discovered that the driver, Joe Belgara, of Los Angeles, was a fugitive with a warrant through the National Crime Information Center. The car also strongly smelled like marijuana, Street said.
After a full search of the car, police arrested Belgara and two occupants of the SUV after discovering what Street said “revealed a fraud ring.” The other two people in the car were identified as Paul Hernandez, of Los Angeles, and Amanda Starn, of Simi Valley, California.
“Several hundred pages containing other people’s identities were located (in the car),” Street said.
Police also found over 300 checks, check writers, credit card writing equipment, erased checks, printers, lamination devices and computer hard drives, he said. After a more thorough search, just over one ounce of methamphetamine was found alongside heroin, marijuana and drug paraphernalia, Street said.
All three people in the car were arrested and booked into the Purgatory Correctional Facility. They were all charged with seven felonies for forgery, as well as charges for possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia. Starn was also slapped with another felony for possessing information on how to illegally use someone’s finance card, and Belgara also received a charge for not obtaining a driver’s license.
The investigation into the fraud ring was handed off to the State Bureau of Investigation and is still ongoing at this time, Street said. The three suspects are still in custody at the jail at the time of this report.
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