POLK COUNTY — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday morning that it had arrested and charged four Polk County residents as part of a statewide racketeering, fraud, theft and money laundering investigation.
In addition, Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said three other suspects living in the Miami area have been charged as part of the criminal conspiracy and have warrants out for their arrests.
Addressing a media gathering Thursday from the PCSO Offices in Winter Haven, Judd described an operation that saw the seven accused conspirators stealing from Gap, Inc. stores in 15 counties across Florida — including Polk, Orange, Osceola and Hillsborough Counties, among others.
Based on the results of the investigation so far, law enforcement officials have tabbed the losses caused by the group at $87,500 — including a loss of $63,430 for Gap, Inc. (and $4,108 for an Old Navy store in Lakeland, in particular) and an additional loss of $24,070 for Chase Bank, with individual victims in 14 states.
According to a release, “the suspects were buying merchandise at stores with stolen and/or fraudulent Chase Bank credit cards and then returning the merchandise to different Gap, Inc. stores and receiving funds on their own personal credit cards.”
As Judd shared the identities of the four persons arrested in Polk County, he made a note of pointing out that three of them are receiving some form of federal aid.
“Not only are you paying more at the store, the money you’re paying in taxes is going to pay these people while they’re stealing stuff,” Judd said.
The four individuals arrested from Polk County are: Hakeem Leonard Abraham, 29, of Winter Haven; Otis Bernard “Bee” Williams, 22, of Lake Wales; Devonna O’Shea Moore, 22, of Lake Wales; and Britney Peacock, 29, of Winter Haven.
Moore is the live-in girlfriend of Williams, who owns a barbershop — Designer Kuts Barber Shop in Lake Wales. Peacock is the live-in girlfriend of Abraham, with whom she moved to the area from South Florida roughly one year ago.
The investigation began in March with Gap, Inc. contacting PCSO. After reviewing video surveillance and records from the company from as far back as January, a case against six suspects began to come together. Later, a seventh suspect was identified.
“They would gather fictitious data, put it on — many times an expired gift card — and then they would move out, buy the product, return the product, get the cash from the purchase of the product and steal it,” Judd explained. “Traditionally, there’s a hack some place. That person takes the data and sells it all across the nation to other people. Then, they take the data and they put it on cards and they steal.
“We don’t know how they got the data,” he continued. “Obviously, we’re trying to follow that back.”
Judd praised the work of his staff, as well as the staff of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who partnered on the investigation. He also thanked staff with Gap, Inc., for providing the necessary help to make the case.
“We couldn’t have been successful on this investigation except GAP, Inc. worked with us,” Judd said.
The investigation also identified three residents of the Miami area — JD Jones, Jr., Calvin Andre Pinckney, Jr., and Sha’quella Jewel Sykes.
Judd said Thursday that the evidence gathered so far suggests Abraham is the connecting tissue between the Polk and Miami-based elements of the operation.
“They were all connected through Hakeem,” Judd said. “He is the one who knew them all.”
Judd used the occasion to make a few additional points. First, that this type of criminal operation is rampant, and second, that residents need to be vigilant with regard to their financial data.
“A lot of these stolen cards, if folks would have fraud alerts on their credit card or their debit card … they could at least know early on they were a victim of theft,” Judd said. “It’s important to understand that this is happening thousands and thousands and thousands of times every day.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at firstname.lastname@example.org.