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Two Utahns whoallegedly stole credit cards and other items from the garage of an unsuspecting Riverton woman while she mowed her back lawn earlier this summer now face up to 10 years in federal prison in the first case brought to prosecutors by the newly resurrected Utah Identity Theft Task Force.
Jason Oler Kettler and Chaunte Marie Thompson, both currently being held in the Salt Lake County jail, made an initial appearance Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn J. Furse. They each face one count of unauthorized use of a credit card, which also carries a potential fine of $250,000.
As the homeowner worked in her backyard on June 24, Kettler, 35, and Thompson, 31, pulled into her driveway. Kettler got out of the vehicle, entered the garage and stole a wallet and other items,according to charging documents and press releases from police and prosecutors. He also smashed a window of a vehicle parked in the garage. The two then fled unaware their actions had been caught on the homeowner's surveillance camera.
Over the next several hours, the pair allegedly used the stolen credit cards at least eight times, spending more than $1,000 on items at Sportsman's Warehouse in Midvale and at a Nike store in West Jordan, where they also were caught on video camera.
That same day, the homeowner reported the burglary and shared video footage of the theft with the Unified Police Department. Two days later, she reported purchases made on three credit cards; police were able to gather additional video images of the two suspects at those stores. With that information police said theywere able to identify and arrest Kettler and Thompson in July.
The charges are the first brought through efforts of the Utah Identify Theft Task Force, which began operating in January after years of inactivity. The task force currently has the formal participation of four law enforcement agencies: Unified Police, Sandy Police Department, West Valley City police and Ogden police.
The agencies meet regularly to share and screen ID theft case information, said Michael Mantyla, resident agent-in-charge of the Salt Lake City office for the Secret Service.
"We have other cases we are investigating now and anticipate additional federal arrests," Mantyla said.
Mantyla said the decision to bring a case to the U.S. Attorney's Office rather than county prosecutors for possible federal prosecution is based on several factors, including the crime's impact individual victims, businesses and financial institutions; the suspect's prior criminal history; and likelihood of continued thefts.
Both Kettler and Thompson have criminal histories. Kettler, who also is known as Jason Oler Tucker and "T-Bone," has previous convictions for receiving stolen property, theft, failure to respond to a command of a police officer and fleeing justice.
Mantyla said the aim of the task force is to improve communication and remove barriers between different law enforcement agencies and financial institutions, who often are carrying out separate investigations into crimes involving the same suspects. "It's inefficient to operate that way," he said.
Officers who are members of the task force are deputized as federal agents, allowing them to work directly with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"We view this on the federal side as a force multiplier," Mantyla said.
The task force also will do more public outreach so Utahns know where to get help if they become victims of identity theft, he added.
"This effort is our way of addressing the seriousness of the issue," Mantyla said.
Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said federal prosecutors often take cases that cross multiple jurisdictions, as was the case in this instance. The federal system also has mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, such as identity theft.
"Now that we are back working together, we have the opportunity to screen cases and see what makes sense to prosecute in federal court and what makes sense to prosecute in state court," she said.