Police bust ‘fraud ring’ from California after traffic stop on I-15

A stock image shows a Utah Highway Patrol vehicle on a highway in Southern Utah | Photo courtesy of Utah Highway Patrol, St. George News

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.

Booking photos for Joe Belgara (left), of Los Angeles, Paul Hernandez (middle), of Los Angeles, and Amanda Starn (right), of Simi Valley, California. All three suspects was arrested in St. George, Utah, Nov. 10, 2018 | Photos courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

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.

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • jpff November 12, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    A huge success story for society and our law enforcement! I am glad those three were stopped before they could destroy hundreds of people’s credit and finances.

  • ladybugavenger November 12, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    She was just there for the heroin and meth. She looks so drugged up that I would use the defense, she couldn’t even turn on a computer and she was not coherant enough to print any documents.

  • Real Life November 12, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    Hopefully these waste of oxygen thieves will get a good dose of sobriety here in good ol’ St. Geezy.

    • KR567 November 12, 2018 at 10:54 pm

      Wooooooooohoooooooo one more for Law Enforcement

  • LunchboxHero November 13, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    Well I hope they’re all issued a stern citation and grounded from the PlayStation for a week – that’ll show ’em! They’ll know the Utah justice system means BUSINESS.

  • Carpe Diem November 14, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Would love to see the bodycam of the arrest. Wonder if the driver pulled the SovCit nonsense “Drivers license, registration, insurance not needed, because I am a traveller between the States, I am not driving, I do not consent, I have no contract with you, let me talk to your supervisor, no I wont roll my window down, no you can’t have my name, yadda yadda…” (often resulting in a broken window and arrest)

    Anyway it seems Purgatory is becoming quite the tourist spot lately. So many out of towners come here for the experience!

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