News

Chase fingers I.D. theft ring

A slow-speed chase around Oak Harbor Jan. 18 led police to a large identity-theft and check-forgery ring that extends from Whidbey Island to Portland, according to police.

Detective Sgt. Jerry Baker with the Oak Harbor Police Dept. said detectives have arrested 10 people so far on suspicion of charges including identity theft, conspiracy to commit identity theft and felony theft.

The man and woman who led police on the chase are facing more serious charges.

Prosecutors charged both 23-year-old Jose Villa Broeke and 26-year-old Jennifer Lee Griffin in Island County Superior Court Jan. 23 with attempting to elude pursuing police vehicles, first-degree malicious mischief, possession of methamphetamine, and three counts of possession of stolen property in the second degree.

Broeke and Griffin both pleaded not guilty.

Baker said police learned about the first fake-check theft last February, but weren’t able to identify the suspect as Broeke until last fall. They learned that he was wanted on numerous felony warrants: armed robbery out of Clark County, Wash.; two counts of felon in possession of a firearm; one count of being armed while dealing drugs; and one count of eluding a police vehicle out of Marion County, Ore., according to the police department.

The detectives tracked him down to Navy housing on Western Drive, but Broeke got away after two women stalled police by lying about his identity.

Two months later, on Jan. 18, Baker happened to spot Griffin driving a Chevrolet Blazer, with Broeke in the passenger seat, turning onto Highway 20 at Barrington Drive. The Blazer was hauling a U-Haul trailer.

Baker said Broeke was hard to miss because his hair was dyed bright red.

Baker reported the sighting and a police officer immediately went to the scene. Officer Patrick Horn knocked on the window of the parked vehicle and spoke to the occupants.

Police join

car chase

“Broeke slapped it into gear and told the female to go,” Baker said.

The Blazer sped off on the highway. Several more police officers joined the chase around town. Officer Horn was close behind the Blazer and could see the window was down, so he spoke to Griffin on his PA system and told her to pull over.

Eventually, Griffin turned onto Case Road, striking a police car as she turned. Police blocked her in, but she tried to drive around them.

Baker said the Blazer side-swiped one police car, knocking it into a telephone pole, and the trailer struck Horn’s car, finally bringing the chase to an end.

Two of the three damaged police cars had to be taken out of service.

According to Horn’s report, Broeke jumped out of the Blazer and tried to run away, but a detective tackled him. Broeke continued to struggle, so Horn zapped him with a Taser.

Detectives searched the Blazer and found suspected methamphetamine, dozens of syringes, stolen mail from the Oak Harbor and Mount Vernon areas, fake driver’s licenses, PC software for making checks, blank check stock, and numerous counterfeit checks already made out and ready for use.

All of the items recovered were consistent with the crime of identity theft, according to police.

ID theft ring uncovered

The discovery was a big break in a case police were investigating involving numerous counterfeit checks that had been passed at local banks and businesses. Some of the checks found in the Blazer matched those checks already recovered from the local businesses. Bank account numbers found in some of the stolen mail had been used to produce the checks.

Police also recovered the computer Broeke was using to make fake checks.

According to Baker, many of the 16 people involved in the criminal ring recently moved from the Vancouver, Wash. and Portland areas to Oak Harbor, while others are Whidbey Island natives.

The motive was simple. “It obviously involved meth, as usual,” Baker said.

According to Baker, the suspects stole mail in order to get bank account and credit card numbers. They used the numbers to create fake checks, which they passed at local stores and banks. They bought merchandise, gift cards or cashed the checks for money. Wal-Mart and Smokes Plus were especially hard hit.

Because of his criminal record, Broeke could face between three years and seven months to four years and nine months in prison under the standard sentencing range if convicted of all the charges in Island County. Of course, he’s also facing lengthy prison sentences in Clark County and Oregon.

Griffin, who doesn’t have a criminal record, could face up to a year and a half in prison.

Reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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