ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - 9 Investigates discovered convicts serving time in Florida prisons are committing identity theft and financial crimes from behind bars.
anchor Vanessa Welch learned inmates are ripping off consumer credit card numbers, using them to get cash and redirecting the money to family and friends back home.
Welch sat down with one family, the Bashwiners, who easily fell for the scam and now think prisoners have too much freedom.
Bashwiners traveled to Walt Disney World to celebrate a daughter's birthday. They checked into the Polynesian Resort hotel and went straight to the Magic Kingdom. But when they returned to their hotel room, the phone rang.
“They told us it was the front desk, and our American Express, there was a problem with it. Do we have another card? So I gave them our debit card,” explained Kristine Bashwiner.
Kristine had no clue that she had been tricked by Florida prison inmate Damion Goldsmith, who was already serving time for credit card fraud.
“It’s almost hard to believe that they can do this and get away with it," Kristine told Welch.
Friends and relatives helped Goldsmith pull
off the scam during 2010.
Recorded prison calls reveal he was very convincing.
“This is the front desk,” Goldsmith is heard saying in the recorded call. “Our computers went down, and we need to re-enter all our information back into the computer.”
Goldsmith asked other guests to re-enter their credit card information and provide their addresses as well.
Once he had the credit card information, Goldsmith worked with a relative to go online to JPay.com, an online service designed to let loved ones send money to prison inmates. Then, the relative used the credit card information and JPay.com to deposit $300 into Goldsmith’s inmate trust account.
You may be surprised to learn inmates can withdraw funds from their canteen accounts and have the Florida Department of Corrections write checks to people on the outside, but that’s exactly what investigators say Goldsmith did -- using the Bashwiners' credit card information.
“Maybe these privileges will be taken away from them,” Bobby Bashwiner told Welch.
He is frustrated to learn inmates are still committing this scam.
"I don’t know how they get these luxuries," he said.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks told 9 Investigates his agency is working with the Department of Corrections to make sure prisoners who commit these scams while in prison spend even more time behind bars.
"We're concerned about it,” Banks told Welch. “We are targeting them for criminal investigations."
Just a few months ago, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested Tamika Teague on charges of using stolen credit cards to deposit more than $22,000 into inmate accounts.
One inmate was her husband, Ronald Teague, who was locked up in a state prison in Polk County, authorities said.
Records show the Department of Corrections issued checks to Ronald Teague’s wife totaling nearly $15,000.
Bashwiner remains astonished that state prison inmates can pull off this kind of fraud from behind bars.
"I just never heard of anyone sending money from the prison to home,” he said. “It’s normally the other way around. Who has money in prison?"
Bashwiner suggests there might be an easy solution.
“If there’s a limit, I don’t know, of $50 or $100, then this couldn’t happen,” he said.
The Florida Department of Corrections declined 9 Investigates’ request for an interview.
A representative said the department has no plans to limit the amount of money inmates can withdraw from their accounts.
However, all special withdrawals of more than $500 are reviewed a second time by Corrections’ Budget and Finance.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is working hard to charge inmates involved in these scams with additional crimes, leading to more prison time.
Goldsmith was sentenced to two additional years for his role in the scheme. Ronald and Tamika Teague are still awaiting trial and have not been convicted.