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Woman Pleads Guilty to Credit Card Fraud : Courts: Employee used mortgage company data to buy merchandise, get cash advances and apply for loans.

August 25, 1994|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Downey woman who was accused of using stolen credit card numbers to buy thousands of dollars worth of goods in other people's names pleaded guilty this week to 12 felony charges.

Debra LaGrone, 40, faces a five-year prison term when she is sentenced Sept. 13 in Norwalk Superior Court.

LaGrone's attorney, Charles E. Mullis, said she decided to plead guilty because of the abundant evidence in the case, including surveillance photographs showing LaGrone making withdrawals on a victim's credit account at an automated teller machine in Downey.

According to court documents, LaGrone obtained credit card numbers and other confidential information while working at mortgage companies in Los Angeles and Orange counties, then bought thousands of dollars worth of goods on those accounts.

In some instances, LaGrone called credit card companies, reported cards missing and requested replacements, court records show. LaGrone also applied for loans and obtained cash advances in other people's names and ordered merchandise through department stores, jewelry boutiques and clothing catalogues.

When Downey fraud investigators searched LaGrone's townhouse in January, they found credit cards with other people's names and account numbers, jewelry that had been fraudulently purchased and a spiral notebook filled with names, home addresses and credit information of people who had recently refinanced their homes.

In all, authorities documented more than $50,000 worth of purchases and identified at least 15 individuals across Southern California as victims, in addition to many small merchants, department stores, credit card companies and banks that suffered losses.

LaGrone pleaded guilty to charges of commercial burglary, making a false financial statement, fraudulent use of an access card, receiving stolen property and possession of methamphetamines.

Under the plea agreement, LaGrone could spend all or part of her sentence at a state drug rehabilitation center in Riverside County that houses first-time felony offenders who have substance abuse problems. A hearing will be held after LaGrone's sentencing to determine whether she is eligible, Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Katz said.

Some of LaGrone's victims said they were dissatisfied with her sentence. They are still trying to correct credit problems caused by LaGrone's acts and want to see her spend more time behind bars.

"I'm glad they got her for something, but it seems like a light sentence for what she did to me," said Dorothy LaGrone, 74, who is not related to Debra LaGrone.

Authorities said Debra LaGrone virtually assumed Dorothy LaGrone's identity by using Dorothy LaGrone's credit card numbers and changing her address with the Postal Service and with a national credit reporting agency.

"I would hate for someone else to go through what I went through for a whole year," Dorothy LaGrone said.

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