South Florida identity thief strikes again and again and again, feds say

South Florida identity thief strikes again and again and again, feds say

The last time Jeffrey Emil Groover served time in prison, he got a day pass to teach a U.S. Senate committee how to stop people like him from stealing identities.

But the South Florida man can’t seem to stop himself, investigators say.

Groover, 53, of Delray Beach, was supposed to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale for his second offense of pilfering other people’s personal information last year.

But his judgment day had to be postponed because he was arrested Friday on allegations that he committed a third identity theft crime at a bank in Sunrise – while he was free on $100,000 bond and just days before his sentencing for the 2012 case.

Sunrise police said Groover opened an online checking account at a PNC Bank branch on University Drive and — with a female accomplice — took out a fraudulent $20,000 line of credit in the name of a 66-year-old widow who lives in Palm Beach.

“He was trying to get one last big score in before he went to prison, wasn’t he?” the alleged victim told the Sun Sentinel on Tuesday. She spoke on condition that her name not be published.

The woman said she figured something was amiss when the postal delivery worker told her doorman that her mail had been stopped. She resumed mail delivery and received two credit cards and two debit cards that she had not ordered, as well as fraud alerts on other accounts, she said.

Meanwhile, bank employees notified Sunrise police about suspicious activity on an account that a man had opened online. According to an arrest warrant filed in Broward Circuit Court last week, Groover opened an online checking account using the woman’s information and visited the branch a couple of times in late September.

Detectives said they were able to identify Groover from video surveillance footage.

Groover was arrested Friday and is being held at the Palm Beach County jail without bond. His attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum postponed Groover’s sentencing on the 2012 case until Dec. 2 to give prosecutors and Groover’s lawyer time to investigate the new allegations, which could affect his punishment. He is expected to face more charges of identity theft, grand theft and forgery.

Identity theft was much less common than it is now when Groover stole the identities of several local residents — including Nelson Doubleday of Jupiter, a former owner of the New York Mets — in 2000 and 2001.

Groover admitted he went on a one-year spending spree using other people’s identities to obtain credit. He also used Palm Beach philanthropist Donald Burns’ personal information to purchase a BMW, a Rolex watch and rare coins.

Groover was sentenced to almost four years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $270,000 to his first set of victims.

While he was imprisoned, he was invited to testify before a U.S. Senate special committee and offered some helpful tips on how to draft new laws to prevent other identity thieves.

“I came here to assist my country, and in some small way to find redemption for what I’ve done,” Groover said to the Capitol Hill committee in 2004.

“The punishment is severe, and rest assured that I will not do it again. However, that will not stop other people from continuing to do this type of crime due to the ease in which it can be done,” Groover said.

But several years after his release from prison in 2006, federal prosecutors said Groover refined his method and resumed his crimes.

He was caught last year after a check-processing service reported suspicious activity in a merchant account that he opened in March 2012.

Agents said Groover had set up Affordable Pest Protection Inc., of West Palm Beach, and began trying to cash income tax refund checks made out in other people’s names, according to court records.

When the cash-checking service asked questions, Groover said customers had signed over the checks to pre-pay him for pest control, agents said. But investigators said he was lying and the victims, who included a Broward County man who died in April 2008, were defrauded.

Groover was facing a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines if his sentencing on four counts of making false claims to the IRS had taken place Tuesday. He reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in May — admitting he targeted more than 10 victims for up to $400,000 — after learning prosecutors planned to file more charges, including several counts of aggravated identity theft, against him.

Legal Shred
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