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2 Arrested in Credit Card, Identity Theft

Fraud: Police say they are part of an organization that steals mail and financial information to support drug habits.

April 19, 2001|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN and RICHARD FAUSSET | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Two people who authorities say were part of a fraud ring that steals mail and identities to finance drug habits were arrested with $23 million worth of credit card and bank account information, Burbank and federal authorities said Wednesday.

Lian Karla Yamashiro, 33, and Dino Salvador Ledonio, 30, both of Woodland Hills, were booked late Monday on suspicion of credit card fraud, forgery and identity theft. Police said they tried to use bad checks to buy laptop computers at a Burbank computer store. Yamashiro also was charged with methamphetamine possession. They were being held on $250,000 bail.

They are believed to be part of a Southern California group known as "the circulation," which has stolen more than a 1,000 identities and other credit data since 1996, said Julie Larson of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

The two were found with scores of credit cards, a list of 100 names from as far away as Germany and South America and dozens of account numbers, authorities said.

Postal authorities said that despite the arrest of 100 members over the years, hundreds of others are still connected to the organization, which is spread across the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Earlier this year, a jury convicted the group's ringleader, 41-year-old Eduardo Lopez Ramos, on identity theft-related charges, Larson said. He is serving a six-year sentence in state prison and is scheduled to be deported to the Philippines.

Although the arrests this week were notable for the potential losses involved, Larson said it would not break the back of the organization.

"Just the name of this group, 'the circulation'--it's constantly changing," she said. "Mail and information is constantly circulating from person to person."

Typically, members obtain their financial information by plucking letters with financial or personal information out of residential mailboxes, in many cases taking them as they jog through neighborhoods, Larson said.

Terry Thome, a spokeswoman for the Postal Inspection Service, said consumers need to take greater care in safeguarding their mail.

"Go to a major hardware store and buy a locked mailbox approved by the postmaster general," Thome said.

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