Police Close in on Identity Theft Ring

Alleged Leader Remains at Large By John R. Ellement, Globe Staff

The interstate pursuit of a sophisticated identity theft ring allegedly responsible for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars led Boston police to a pulsating pile of clothes in a Hyde Park apartment.

Police Detective Steven F. Blair said he found Carol Silva in a closet Friday night and that her hiding place was discovered because the mass of clothes she used to cover herself rose up and down with her breathing.

Blair said Silva is the alleged sixth member of a seven-member ring active in Boston, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, D.C., and Maryland -- and the hunt is now on for the ring's alleged mastermind, Charles Belin of Boston.

"We only have one person left to go, and that's Charles Belin," Blair said. "We need help from the community. If they see him, give us a call. We'd love to arrest him. "

Blair said the ring was connected to a recent wave of pocketbook thefts along Newbury and Boylston streets and that the arrest of Silva and five others has dramatically decreased that type of crime in downtown Boston.

Belin, 55, and Silva, 54, according to Blair, are targets of a federal investigation in Maryland. A spokeswoman for the US attorney's office in Maryland would neither confirm nor deny the investigation, but she said Silva had not been charged federally in Maryland.

Blair said Silva's task in the multilevel ring was to pose as an identity theft victim -- complete with fake driver's license -- and withdraw tens of thousands of dollars from banks before the victim and banks learned they had been targeted.

He said the sophisticated ring has members who specialize in portions of the criminal network. Someone steals a pocketbook, another person makes up fake identification using the name on checks found in the stolen purse, and another person then poses as the legitimate bank customer to quickly withdraw thousands from inflated bank accounts.

Silva was arraigned yesterday in West Roxbury Municipal Court as a fugitive from justice in Maryland and charges unrelated to the identity theft ring.

Boston police said they had received a tip Friday that Silva was staying at an address on Madison Street in Hyde Park. Investigators saw her enter the residence before they asked permission to search for her there.

Silva was ordered held without bail by Judge Mary Ann Driscoll and is to be arraigned tomorrow in Boston Municipal Court, where she is charged with stealing $23,900 using a fake ID in October 2004.

Her defense attorney, Paul V. Marino, said after the arraignment that Silva did not know Boston police were looking for her and was unaware that images of her cashing checks had been posted on the department's website.

But Blair said Silva returned to Boston earlier this year after authorities in Maryland released surveillance photos of her in that region. "She knew it was getting hot, so she came back to Boston," he said.

The key to the ring's success is finding checking account information inside a pocketbook, Blair said. The thieves take checks from one victim to deposit tens of thousands of dollars into another victim's bank account. And before bank security is alerted, they withdraw the cash with fake identification.

Blair said people need to be vigilant about protecting their personal information. "A pocketbook today is now worth a quick $30,000," he said. "They lose their identification -- that's the most important thing in this world." Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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