SF home served as casino, ID theft haven

February 18, 2009 6:07:39 PM PST
Agents with a Bay Area computer crimes task force arrested four men in San Francisco last month after raiding a house that allegedly served as an after-hours casino and a location for identity thieves to trade stolen mail, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office announced today.

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The house, known as "the Castle," is located on Newhall Avenue in the city's Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood and was known to offer after-hours gambling with slot machines and other casino equipment, district attorney's officials said.

Investigators also believe methamphetamine was purchased and stolen mail exchanged in "the Castle." The mail was used by identity thieves to prey on residents in wealthy areas including in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, according to the district attorney's office.

The Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, or REACT, which consists of members of law enforcement agencies around the Bay Area, developed information about the house in the last year and began investigating "the Castle" within the past few months, Investigator David Hendrickson said.

"We had received information from the streets and informants that this is a location where mail thieves would take the mail they would steal," he said.

Thieves would go to the house and either use the information themselves or sell the mail to people with the skills to take the identity theft one step further, according to Hendrickson.

The REACT task force served a search warrant at the home Jan. 30 and located two rooms with electronic slot machines, evidence of identity theft, and more than $10,000 in illegal gambling and methamphetamine sale proceeds.

Agents found 27 people inside the home. They were detained and questioned, and three were ultimately arrested for outstanding warrants and possession of methamphetamine. The owner of the house on Newhall Avenue was arrested but has been released pending further investigation, Hendrickson said.

The REACT Task Force serving the Bay Area is based out of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and is one of five in the state, Hendrickson said.

The five task forces are funded through two state grants; one that deals with hacking, stealing of components from high-tech industries and other computer crimes, and another that funds identity theft investigations.

The grants were created about 10 years ago after the high-tech industry approached lawmakers in Sacramento with requests for enforcement efforts on high-tech issues, Hendrickson said.

The local task force will continue to investigate the San Francisco-based identity theft ring and will submit the case to the San Francisco District Attorney's Office for prosecution.

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