February 8, 2006
St. Louis, Mo. — A Miami, Fla., man who allegedly stole the identities of Missourians online to purchase and receive thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and gift cards has been charged with two criminal counts of identity theft filed in Missouri.
The felony charges against Henry Lee Berry (DOB: 8-12-61) were filed jointly by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon and Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Wilkins. The investigation also involved the Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Florida Attorney General’s Office, Miami Police Department, and the Pembroke Pines, Fla., Police Department.
Search warrants were executed today on Berry’s residence and two other homes, and computer equipment and packages were seized during the search. Once he is arrested, Missouri officials will work to extradite Berry to Jefferson County to stand trial on the charge.
"The widening scope of identity theft has become a growing concern for law enforcement, and pursuing these cases can be complex and challenging," Nixon said today at a news conference held with Wilkins in St. Louis. "This is a perfect illustration of how law enforcement agencies work cooperatively, sometimes across great distances, to build a case that results in an arrest of a suspect."
"The reason identity theft is such a terrible crime is that it not only robs victims of their money, it strips them of their good name as well," said Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist. "This arrest should send a clear message that not even state lines will deter us from bringing these thieves to justice."
"State lawmakers face a constant challenge to keep pace with ever changing criminal behavior," Wilkins said. "In this electronic age we realize that even with our best efforts to protect our privacy and our identity, there are bad people who would do us harm."
According to the probable cause statement filed with the charges, several Missouri residents had reported to the Attorney General’s Office and to other law enforcement agencies that they had been the victims of online identity theft. The victims' personal identifying information, such as names, Social Security numbers and birth dates, were allegedly used to open credit accounts and purchase items at various online merchants, including Best Buy, Lowes, Macys and Home Depot.
The statement further alleges that numerous packages from these and other online merchants were delivered to a Miami residence where Henry Berry received mail. The billing information on the deliveries allegedly was that of Missouri residents. The residents included a Festus woman; the charges were filed in Jefferson County because an alleged victim lived there. The charges allege that Berry purchased almost $3,800 of merchandise using the victim’s identity.
Berry has previous convictions that include possession of cocaine, carrying a concealed weapon, larceny, burglary and vehicle theft.
Nixon says investigators from his office are continuing to work with investigators in the Florida’s Attorney General Office and other authorities in that state. The investigation is looking into whether Berry or any of his associates are connected with reports by as many as 30 to 40 other Missourians that their stolen identity information also was used to purchase merchandise without their consent.
Identity theft which results in the theft or appropriation of credit, money, goods, services or other property exceeding $500 and not exceeding $5,000 is a class C felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison upon conviction and a $5,000 fine. The sentencing court also may order a convicted defendant to pay restitution to any victims. Those found guilty of identity theft also may be civilly liable to their victims for up to $5,000 for each incident, or three times the amount of actual damages, whichever is greater.
The charges against Berry are merely accusations; as in all criminal cases, the defendant is presumed innocent until or unless proven guilty in a court of law.
"We appreciate the timely assistance of all the agencies involved that made this arrest possible, as well as the cooperation of fraud investigators from several of the online merchants," Nixon said. "Without that kind of assistance and cooperation, it would be much more difficult to catch thieves who hide behind a computer monitor and across several state lines."
This week, Nixon unveiled a new online form on his Web site, www.ago.mo.gov, for victims of identity theft. He reminded Missourians that they can reduce the possibility of identity theft by following several precautions: