The Houston Police Department announced today the bust of an identity-theft business that sold fake driver's licenses and counterfeit checks to almost 200 clients, operating out of an office near Greenspoint Mall.
The "ring leader," 65-year-old Robert Lyles, allegedly purchased information to make the counterfeit checks. For example, police found a large stack of documents at Lyles's office from Ace Cash Express, according to Lieutenant Robert Manzo, who heads the department's financial crimes unit.
Lyles then got a driver's license number using the Web site publicdata.com, Manzo said, and used that number with a client's real photograph to make a fake Texas driver's license to match the name on the counterfeit checks.
"He was just a good businessman," Manzo said. "He had an office, he drove nice cars."
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One woman had written Lyles a note asking if she could please have her fake ID and checks ready by the following Monday. The day Lyles was arrested, a client left a message on his cell phone that said, "I just flew in from Las Vegas, and I'll be at the same hotel waiting on the checks."
Manzo called this operation the largest he's seen in his three years investigating white-collar crimes, and he estimated that "hundreds of thousands of dollars" had been stolen using the fake checks.
It's a great bust for HPD, but if police hadn't gotten a tip about Lyles about three weeks ago, who knows how long the theft business would have stayed open. Back when we talked to Manzo for a June cover story, he admitted that identity theft arrests are hard to make -- especially considering the number of crimes -- and the theft is basically impossible to stop. For example, the problem with places like the one Lyles operated, Manzo told us, is that "we can shut one down today, and another one will re-open, or the same people will open up down the street the next day."
Along with Lyles, two other men and one woman were also arrested, and a man already in custody was linked to this business. That man was living in a million dollar home, Manzo said, furnished with stuff he bought using the fake checks.