Authorities Seek 2nd Suspect In Nursing Home Identity Theft

STEPHEN THOMPSON
9/14/2007 – ST. PETERSBURG – Investigators are looking for a second suspect in a scheme that used the identities of 16 nursing home patients to open charge accounts at stores.

One woman, a former certified nursing assistant at Apollo Health & Rehabilitation Center, was arrested Wednesday in the case, Pinellas County jail records show. Natasha Tanksley, 33, of St. Petersburg, was charged with 16 counts of criminal use of personal information, three counts of scheme to defraud and one count of possession of marijuana.

The second suspect is a 39-year-old woman. Investigators asked that her name not be published because she may not know they are searching for her.

According to Sgt. Kevin Smith, who is in charge of the economic crimes unit at the St. Petersburg Police Department, Tanksley got the patients’ personal information while working at the nursing home.

At least one of the patients has suffered from a stroke, jail records show. Another is 85. A couple had died by the time their personal information was used.

Tanksley and the second suspect used the personal information to open accounts, either on the telephone or via the Internet, at JCPenney, Sears, Victoria’s Secret and Rooms To Go, Smith said.

They would then walk into the stores, claim their charge cards hadn’t been sent to them yet and ask for temporary cards, Smith said. They would use the temporary cards to buy gift cards or merchandise, the sergeant said.

The thefts occurred in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Polk and Sarasota counties, and involved the loss of more than $100,000, Smith said. Because of the extent of the scheme, a statewide prosecutor is expected to handle the case, Smith said.

Even though the patients didn’t suffer financially, they had to fill out affidavits saying they were the victims of fraud and contact credit bureaus, and some of them may have chosen to put an alert on their Social Security numbers, Smith said.

Some of them are so flummoxed by the ordeal they have hired attorneys to help them navigate the process, Smith said.

“It takes a good 30 to 60 days to get it resolved,” Smith said.

Tanksley was fired from her job Aug. 1, as soon as the nursing home was told what she was suspected of doing, Smith said. The identities were first used in February; they continued to be used through July, Smith said.

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