Regardless, Michael Ortiz, 21, and his friends — David McPherson, 20, Jesse Browning, 21, and Shelly Wallace, 32, all of Vermilion — were charged with misuse of a credit card, forgery and theft of a credit card. McPherson was also charged with receiving stolen property.
They all stayed in the same Barnes Road home, and deputies have video surveillance of the four shopping together at an Elyria department store. They used the stolen credit card to pay for their purchases, Erie County deputies said.
The card owner called deputies Jan. 14, after her wallet and cell phone were stolen from her vehicle. She said she was sure it happened at a gas station on Ohio 60, where her husband stops every morning before work.
At first she thought she only lost the wallet, until fraudulent transactions started showing up on her credit card statements.
Using transaction times from the statements, the woman managed to obtain surveillance footage of a man using one of her cards. She then handed the video over to deputies.
Deputies, in turn, asked Vermilion gas station clerks to keep an eye out for the suspect.
About two weeks later, a clerk called deputies with a name: Ortiz, who tried to use the card, but it was declined. The clerk had asked Ortiz his ID, securing his name.
The same day, deputies got a list of all the stores where the stolen cards had been used. They started making requests for surveillance video, obtaining one that showed all four suspects during a shopping spree.
Deputies soon learned Ortiz lived with the other three in the 8300 block of Barnes Road. When they paid him a visit, Ortiz confirmed he used the card but denied stealing it.
“Ortiz stated that he, McPherson, Browning and Wallace were at the Friendship store on Ohio 60 in Vermilion Township,” a deputy’s report said. “They found a wallet lying on the ground. Ortiz said that McPherson encouraged him to take the wallet. He said that Wallace told him that they would stand by him if he were to get caught, offering to ‘put money on his books.’”
In the days following their find, Ortiz said he and the others used the credit cards to buy food and gift cards.
“The gift cards were in the $100 denominations and they traded the gift cards for heroin in Lorain,” the report said.
Ortiz also told deputies McPherson stashed the stolen cards and other stolen property in the basement ductwork at their home. After the interview, deputies arrested Ortiz and McPherson, then drove out to the Barnes Road home, where they talked Browning’s father into letting them into the basement.
In the duct work, exactly where Ortiz told them to look, deputies found the stolen credit cards and other items, including GPS devices and CDs. After collecting the items, deputies issued arrest warrants for Browning and Wallace.
All told, the group racked up $8,315.98 in fraudulent charges on the woman’s credit card.
“It’s always nice to close out these kind of cases,” Erie County Sheriff’s Sgt. Nick Kotsopoulos said. “But for every one we catch, it seems like there’s 100 more.”
All four remain in the Erie County jail on bonds ranging from $45,000 to $100,000.