3 members of Florida ID theft gang arrested in BR

Three members of a Florida identity theft gang were arrested Saturday and accused of three vehicle burglaries in two separate BREC parks, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office said.

John Wright, 33; Curtis Standley, 34; and Tony Lester, 27, all of Pompano Beach, Fla., and all self-proclaimed members of the nationally known “Felony Lane” gang, were booked into Parish Prison on Saturday on three counts each of simple burglary, theft and criminal damage to property, and one count of possession of burglary tools.

Wright also was booked into Parish Prison on five counts each of simple burglary, theft and criminal damage to property from vehicle burglaries that occurred in February in south Baton Rouge.

Casey Rayborn Hicks, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said the trio used chisels to break into one vehicle at BREC’s Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center on Friday night and two vehicles at the Burbank Soccer Complex on Burbank Drive on Saturday morning.

Purses were stolen from the vehicle burglaries at the soccer complex, Hicks said.

Not long after the burglaries Saturday, a woman walked into the Chase Bank on Corporate Boulevard to cash a stolen check, Hicks said. Bank employees became suspicious when the woman used an ID with a name different from the one on the check.

“The female left the check and ID behind when the bank took too long,” Hicks said.

A witness gave deputies a description of the woman and her vehicle, Hicks said.

That information led to a stop in Port Allen by the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The arresting deputies found two chisels used in the burglaries as well as receipts from money transfers to a woman in Florida from Wright for $50 and to a woman in Florida from Standley for $1,500, Hicks said.

The woman from the bank was not in the car and has not been apprehended.

During questioning, Standley admitted the group came to Baton Rouge solely to break into vehicles and steal victims’ personal information, though he did not specify why they stopped in Baton Rouge, Hicks said.

“They typically stop at places along the interstate,” Hicks said.

The gang’s leader was recently sentenced to 188 months in prison for masterminding the scheme for more than five years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported. Travis J. Russ, 32, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was tried in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

The thieves in the “Felony Lane Gang” operate out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and travel across the country targeting checkbooks and IDs in unattended vehicles, ICE said.

With checkbooks and IDs in hand, the thieves cash the fraudulent checks using the drive-thru lane of banks, specifically the farthest lane, known as the felony lane because of its distance from the tellers and security cameras.

They target gyms, parks, day care centers and events frequented by women, in hope of finding purses left in the vehicles, the FBI said.

They conduct surveillance of the parking lots, then enter through unlocked doors or by breaking the windows.

Local prostitutes and drug addicts are then used to assume the identity of the victims for the purpose of cashing stolen checks.

They often are given women’s wigs to look like the victim’s ID picture, the FBI says.

Advocate staff writer Charles Lussier contributed to this article.