Benicia police have arrested three people they believe were operating an extensive identity theft and fraud operation at two hotels in the city, a police lieutenant said today. The suspects were allegedly operating out of rooms at the Best Western Plus Heritage Inn at 1955 East Second St. and the Holiday Inn Express at 1375 East Fifth St., Lt. Frank Hartig said.
All three suspects, Melinda Collins, Martisha Munoz and Keshan Branch, were arrested Saturday. Collins, 30, of Fairfield, was arrested at the Holiday Inn on suspicion of 30 felony counts of forgery, possessing forged checks, manufacturing forged checks, identity theft and three drug possession charges, Hartig said. Munoz, 26, of Vallejo, was taken into custody at the Heritage Inn on outstanding Solano County warrants for felony theft, and robbery and probation violations, Hartig said.
The third suspect, 41-year-old Branch, who has no permanent address, was arrested on a felony parole hold and on misdemeanor charges of interfering with police, giving false information to police and battery on a police officer, Hartig said. Branch was contacted at the Best Western and agreed to go to the Benicia police station to be fingerprinted in order to determine his identity, police said.
He tried to escape and allegedly kicked a police officer during a struggle, according to Hartig. The investigation began on Oct. 5 when housekeepers found items that are used to make counterfeit checks, ID cards and credit cards in a room at the Best Western, Hartig said. Police responded and confiscated items included laptop computers, credit card skimmers, California drivers’ licenses belonging to various people and a high-quality printer, Hartig said.
Munoz tried to pick up the confiscated items on Oct. 6 from the Best Western room she had rented. She was denied because she did not have identification, and fled the hotel, Hartig said. When she returned this Saturday to try again to pick up the items, police arrested her. Munoz was with a male who gave police a name they couldn’t immediately verify. He told officers that his identification was at the Holiday Inn Express several blocks away, where he was staying, Hartig said.
At the Holiday Inn, police searched two rooms and found other people’s banking information and California drivers’ licenses, as well as evidence of check forgery, gift cards, marijuana, Vicodin and narcotics paraphernalia, Hartig said. It was Collins who had rented the rooms, and she was arrested, police said.
“The equipment and items recovered during this investigation indicated that this group of people was very sophisticated in the art of forging checks, identification cards, credit cards and other items used to take over someone’s identity,” Hartig said. Police are looking for other suspects in the operation, and are trying to contact the victims whose checks and credit cards were found in the hotel rooms, Hartig said.
Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. — Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.