BOWLING GREEN — Two home construction contractors who were at the center of a scandal last year that forced a change of leadership and policies in the city of Toledo’s Department of Neighborhoods are accused of participating in a theft and credit-card fraud ring with up to 100 other people.
Indictments handed up this week by the Wood County Common Pleas Court grand jury in Bowling Green identify 19 suspects — all but three of them from Toledo — in a two-year crime spree that focused on stealing merchandise and credit card account numbers, affecting more than 35 stores and two dozen unsuspecting credit-card holders.
Home remodeler Gregory Harris, Sr., 55; his son, Gregory Harris, Jr., 28, and roofer Leon “Fruitloop” Jackson, Jr., 48, all of Toledo, were alleged to be part of a criminal enterprise that involved returning stolen merchandise for store credit and stealing credit card information to buy merchandise at area stores.
Fourteen suspects had been arrested as of Friday.
The Harris father and son and Jackson were highlighted in stories by The Blade in 2011 and 2012 detailing allegations of bid rigging, favoritism, and poor supervision in the city’s Neighborhoods department. The problems prompted the firing of two top officials and an overhaul of the department’s bidding procedures.
Jen Sorgenfrei, spokesman for Mayor Mike Bell, said that at least since December, 2011, neither Greg Harris, Sr., nor Jackson has had any contracts with the city.
She was not able to say whether any city projects were connected with the investigation, which involves thefts that occurred beginning Nov. 1, 2011.
“We’ve not been contacted by Wood County, to my knowledge,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said.
Heather Baker, an assistant Wood County prosecutor, said Greg Harris, Sr., and Jackson’s roles as city of Toledo contractors are part of the investigation.
“That’s still part of the ongoing investigation,” Ms. Baker said.
The indictment identified 46 criminal incidents, including many examples of how plundered credit card accounts allegedly were used.
In one instance, on Nov. 21, 2012, Otha Randall, Jr., 19, is accused of skimming a credit card belonging to a woman at Taco Bell in Maumee where he was working. On Nov. 26, 2012, the two Harrises are then accused of using that account at a Home Depot in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Perrysburg Township police said they found the “cloned credit card information” on a plain credit card in the possession of the two men on Dec. 17, 2012.
In credit card skimming, a thief uses a device to steal credit card information during what would be an otherwise legitimate credit card transaction.
Credit card skimming devices can be placed on ATMs or held by waitstaff and store employees.
When a credit card is run through a skimmer, the device stores the credit card information, and the information is later used to run up fraudulent transactions.
Mr. Randall and Jessica Sanchez, 25, of Dayton are accused of stealing credit card information from 19 customers at the Taco Bell.
Toledo Zoo employee Anastasha White, 28, of Toledo is accused of having stolen credit card information. Ms. White worked for the zoo in park operations, which included the admissions gate, from April to December, 2012, zoo spokesman Andi Norman said.
Ms. Norman said the zoo is not aware of all the allegations against Ms. White.
In one instance, credit card information allegedly stolen by Ms. White was used at stores and gas stations in the Toledo area to ring up some $3,200 worth of purchases over a two-day period, Dec. 2 and 3, 2012.
“There are people that commit thefts and then there are other individuals who take that stolen merchandise back and do a no-receipt return and receive a merchandise card for it,” Ms. Baker said.
Perrysburg Township Sgt. Jim Gross said authorities have identified more than 100 people in their two-year investigation of the credit fraud.
“These were the key individuals,” Sergeant Gross said. “Now we’ll continue the investigation and hope it slows down the steamroll [of crime].
“Don’t allow your credit card out of your sight,” Sergeant Gross advised. “Individuals getting that credit card out of your view are skimming that credit card and taking the information on the magnet strip and it’s being encoded onto other strips.”
The investigation involved the police departments of Perrysburg Township, Perrysburg, Maumee, Holland, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Toledo, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Secret Service, and the FBI.
Thefts or purchases with stolen credit and merchandise cards allegedly occurred at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Rite Aid, Burlington Coat Factory, American Petroleum, Speedway, Kroger, Target, Meijer, Menards, The Andersons, Sears, Speedway, TJ Maxx, and Wal-Mart in Toledo; Lowe’s in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Home Depot in Rossford; Lowe’s in Perrysburg Township; Home Depot in Piqua, Ohio; Wal-Mart in Lima; Lowe’s in Monroe; Menards in Springfield Township; Home Depot in Ypsilanti, Mich.; Auto Zone in Oregon; Target in Rossford; Best Buy in Perrysburg Township.; Meijer in Bowling Green and Findlay; Speedway in Tiffin, and Wal-Mart in Wauseon.
“We’re in the six figures, easily,” Sergeant Gross said. “This is happening all over, it’s everywhere, primarily at the construction, home-improvement businesses because some of this was being funneled back into construction trades.”
Four people had suspicious fires at their homes with insurance claims on them, with GM Harris Building doing all the repairs, the indictment charges.
The 14 arrested included Greg Harris, Sr.; Greg Harris, Jr.; Jackson; Frankie Rayford, 33; Frankie Rayford, Sr., 55; Otha Randall, Sr., 49; Otha Randall, Jr., 19; Ms. White, 28; Pierre Cunningham, 58; Cassandra Hall, 48; Amber Jones, 23, and Ashley Jones, 27, all of Toledo; and Jeremy Sims, 33, and Timothy Derby, 46, of Perrysburg.
Still being sought by police were Ms. Sanchez; and Jacqueline McGhee, 30; Jamaine Williams, Jr., 32; Curtis Anderson, 32; and Cletus Anderson, 48, of Toledo.
All of those indicted except for Mr. Derby face first-degree felony charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
Mr. Derby faces a fifth-degree felony on charges of receiving stolen property, and Mr. Cunningham and Otha Randall, Sr., also were charged with third-degree felonies for alleged possession of heroin.
Officials are tentatively planning to arraign all of those who have been indicted on Thursday in Wood County Common Pleas Court.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.