PEARL RIVER, LA (AP) – Police in Louisiana have uncovered a sophisticated, Los Angeles-based identity theft ring, thanks to two men who skipped out on their $7 Waffle House bill, authorities said.
Waffle House employees called police Saturday, saying two men had stiffed the restaurant and driven away in a U-Haul van. Investigators were still taking statements at the restaurant when patrol officers spotted a U-Haul van parked at a nearby hotel, Pearl River police said Thursday.
A passenger ran into nearby woods as officers approached, according to a news release from Deputy Chief Daniel Hunter.
The officers arrested the driver, and a police dog tracked down the passenger, who also was arrested, he said.
Hunter said a search of the van turned up fake identification and credit cards, credit card skimming devices – and a Waffle House receipt for $7.41.
The investigation revealed “a highly sophisticated identity theft scheme operating out of Los Angeles,” he wrote.
He said the driver, Stayshawn D. Stephens, 20, of California, and Richard A. Brown, 18, of Indiana, had flown into New Orleans from different states, rented the van in New Orleans, and had installed credit card skimming devices at multiple gas stations in the area to steal customers’ credit card numbers.
Investigators are working with the Secret Service and more arrests are possible, he said in an email.
Hunter said in an email that he did not immediately know Stephens’ or Brown’s hometowns.
The police statement said both were arrested on charges of identity theft, bank fraud, monetary instrument abuse and theft by fraud. Charges against Stephens also include criminal damage to property, driving with a suspended license, fraudulently acquiring credit cards and forgery, while those against Brown also include battery on a police officer and resisting arrest by flight, Hunter said.
“As long as I am here, we are not going to put up with any of this criminal nonsense, especially from criminals flying in from California and Indiana,” Police Chief Johnny “JJ” Jennings said in the news release. “Let this be a lesson on etiquette as well; pay your bill and tip your waitress.”