Deputies discover alleged fraud, identity theft operation during traffic stop near Southern Parkway

2019 file photo of Washington County Sheriff's deputies in Washington County, Utah, Sept. 14, 2019 | File photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Police allegedly recovered stolen credit cards, forged checks and personal documents belonging to more than 50 individuals during a traffic stop on Interstate 15 late Friday night.

Friday’s traffic stop began when a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy was heading south on I-15 near mile marker 4 shortly after 11 p.m. and observed a silver passenger car drifting in and out of the travel lane.

The deputy pulled the car over near mile marker 2, and while speaking to the driver, a K-9 unit was deployed to conduct a sniff around the vehicle. When the dog indicated to the possible presence of drugs, the vehicle was searched by police, according to charging documents filed with the court.  

During the search of the vehicle, approximately 3.5 grams of a green leafy substance consistent with marijuana was located inside a purse on the front passenger seat of the vehicle. 

The search also yielded evidence of alleged “forgery and fraudulent financial transactions” the affidavit states.

Deputies recovered checks and checkbooks, including one that contained 35 blank checks, belonging to several different individuals. When deputies reached out to the account holders, one denied ordering any checks while another told officers that their checkbook was taken during a theft incident. 

Police also recovered more than 35 sheets of blank check paper, a laptop computer and a printer. 

“The combination of a computer, printer and blank checks in conjunction with the known forged documents indicated that the devices recovered were used or intended for use in creating forged writings,” the officer noted in the report. 

As the search continued, officers also found multiple financial cards. An analysis of the magnetic strips of the cards revealed that six of them were issued to individuals other than Brown and matched the name listed on mail and other documents that were also found in the vehicle and confiscated by police. 

Through the course of the investigation, officers made contact with the individuals whose names were on the mail and credit cards found inside of the car, and all confirmed that they had not requested nor had they authorized that any financial cards be issued on their account, saying they were victims of identity fraud. 

Michelle Ann Brown, 41, of Las Vegas, Nevada, booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, July 31, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Also found were additional documents that included handwritten pages containing the personal information of several individuals, along with what appeared to be credit card or account numbers, each listed as 14-16 digit numbers. Several of the entries included expiration dates and the three-digit, or CCV, codes.  

Additional documents, including tax documents, bank statements and other papers contained the personal information of more than 50 individuals, none of which were Brown, were reportedly recovered by police. 

The detailed information was drafted using a format “that indicated the numbers were financial transaction card numbers,” according to the report. They also found a number of notebooks containing handwritten pages with names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses and other personal information, in addition to one social security card and a copy of a second card and other government-issued identification.  

The report also states that the volume of items recovered during the traffic stop revealed multiple incidents in which the suspect allegedly obtained the personal identifying information of many other individuals. 

When deputies interviewed the driver, 41-year-old Michelle Brown, of Las Vegas, Nevada, she said that “ all evidentiary items located in the vehicle belonged to her brother,” the deputy recounted in the report. 

Brown also told officers that she was returning home to Las Vegas from Salt Lake City when she was stopped and said that while she knew there were multiple credit cards and checkbooks inside the vehicle, she denied using any of the cards or checks that did not belong to her. 

She also told deputies the marijuana was hers and that she got it from her boyfriend. 

The suspect was placed under arrest and was transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center for medical clearance before being booked in Purgatory Correctional Facility. 

Brown is facing 21 third-degree felony charges, including 10 counts each of possession of a forgery device and unlawful acquisition of a financial card, as well and one count of possession of another’s identifying documents. She also faces a misdemeanor possession charge for the marijuana. 

The suspect was being held on $7,500 bail, which she posted with a bail bondsman on Saturday and was released from jail.  

On Monday, the charges were filed by the Washington County Attorney’s Office and bail was set at $105,150.

However, by the time the bail was set at the higher amount, the suspect was no longer in custody. Brown is scheduled to make an initial appearance in 5th District Court Oct. 2. 

This report is based on information provided by law enforcement and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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