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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  •  Trio arrested for International Identity Theft

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  •  HONESDALE - On March 19, criminal complaints were filed against Christa Strackbein, Jerry Strackbein and Debra Meszler, all of Honesdale by the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office charging numerous Felony counts of Identity Theft and Access Device Fraud.This matter involves the stealing of identities to obtain credit cards and then fraudulently using these cards for purchases in Wayne and surrounding counties.According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause, on August 26, 2012 an unknown actor(s) utilized the name, date of birth, and social security number of the victim, who is a man from Georgia, and completed an internet application for a Capital One credit card. This same computer IP address applied for 13 Capital One credit cards on August 26, 2012 using all different names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and social security numbers.Did a computer traceThe victim was one of those thirteen and he reported the matter to the Columbia County, Georgia Sheriff’s Office. The investigation by Columbia County, Georgia Investigator led to the IP address from AOL and that said IP address that was used in the Capital One Visa card applications was assigned to a "Shola Anibaabaa" of 227 Terrace Street, Honesdale, PA 18431 which is the same address as Christa Strackbein.Again on September 13, 2012, an unknown actor(s) utilized the name, date of birth, and social security number of the victim mentioned above, and completed an internet application for a Chase credit card again from the same IP address. The application included the name of "Christa Strackbein" as an authorized user and listed an address of 227 Terrace Street in Honesdale.The victim did not authorize nor had any knowledge of this application being submitted and does not know a Christa Strackbein. A Chase credit card was issued and mailed to 227 Terrace Street in Honesdale, Wayne County, PA.Over $14K in purchasesBetween approximately September 17 and September 20, 2012, there were 41 purchases were made with this credit card totaling over $14,000.00. Most of the purchases were made in the Honesdale area.On September 19, 2012, the victim’s credit card was used at The Home Depot store in Texas Township. Video surveillance from The Home Depot, along with a comparison of the PA photo license of Christa Strackbein, showed a female who appeared to be Christa Strackbein. Later that evening, a white male returned to The Home Depot and picked up the freezer purchased with the credit card. Video surveillance compared to the PA photo license of Jerry Strackbein determined that the male appeared to be Jerry Strackbein.The credit card receipts from the aforementioned 41 purchases were signed "Christa Strackbein", Jerry M. Strackbein" or "Matthew Strackbein". All three of these individuals are listed as being residents of 227 Terrace Street, Honesdale. The signatures on the credit card receipts are consistent with the signatures displayed on the PA photo licenses of Christa Strackbein, Jerry Strackbein and Debra Meszler, Christa Strackbein’s sister.On February 20, 2013, the Wayne County District Attorney’s office served a search warrant on 227 Terrace Street, Honesdale based upon probable cause of identity theft crimes occurring at that location. Arrest warrants were later issued for Christa Strackbein, Jerry M. Strackbein and Debra Meszler all of 227 Terrace Street Honesdale charging them with four felony counts of Access Device Fraud and two felony counts of Identity Theft.Malaysia connectionAccording to the Affidavit of Probable Cause filed in all three criminal complaints and the investigation of the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office, Christa’s sister, Debra Meszler, was the one who received the fraudulent credit cards.She would get them sent to her from a male named John Tope who allegedly resided in Malaysia. The credit cards would be sent to her at the Terrace Street residence. Tope would then contact Debra with a list of items that he wanted her to purchase with the credit cards. Christa and /or Jerry would drive Debra to the stores to make the requested purchases. They would then use the credit cards to make their own purchases as well as to pay some of their bills.Results of Detective Hower’s interviews in this case revealed that Debra Meszler received numerous fraudulent credit cards and American Express pre-paid gift cards from Tope. Debra received credit cards and made purchases for approximately one and a half years. Once she made the purchases, Tope would send her pre-paid shipping labels so that she could ship the items to Malaysia or elsewhere.The three individuals turned themselves in on March 22 and were arraigned before Magistrate Theodore Mikulak and bail was set for each at $50,000.00 unsecured. The next court proceeding is scheduled for March 27 at 9 a.m. at the Wayne County Courthouse.Wayne County District Attorney Janine Edwards stated, "the diligent work of Wayne County District Attorney Detective Peter Hower in this matter is remarkable. He followed up on a matter that most would have dismissed. By doing so, the actors involved were arrested and international identity and credit card thefts exposed. Here in Wayne County actions will be taken to fully prosecute this type of crime."

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