ROHNERT PARK, SONOMA COUNTY – Five people had set up quite a little operation at a hotel in Rohnert Park. They had a collection of stolen credit cards and blank credit cards, a credit card reader, several laptop computers. They also had some cash, and a bit of methamphetamine and smoking paraphernalia.
They had quite a game going, too. They had already rented a couple of Mercedes Benz cars with a false credit card, and had not returned them, and are suspected of using the cards to gain cash and other merchandise. They were caught, however, when two of them tried the same method to get some cash. According to the Sonoma Sheriff’s Office, last Friday night one of the five went into nearby Graton Casino and tried to withdraw cash from an ATM machine using one of the fraudulent cards. That person (not specifically identified) was arrested. Later that night, at 2:30 am, another one of them tried the same thing, and was also arrested. Investigation into the pair, who were by then linked together, led to the discovery of the hotel room operation.
The arresting deputy contacted the Sheriff’s property crimes detectives, who followed up at the hotel room. When they discovered the operation, they arrested the remaining members of the crime ring. Including the first two arrests, they took into custody Jhona Mathews, 33 of Walnut Creek, Zephyr Carter, 41 of Hayward, Michael Anger, 32, Robert Serrato, 37, and Nicole Dunlap, 30, all of San Francisco.
Jhona Mathews has been in the news headlines before. She was involved in a notable sex scandal involving the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in San Francisco. Mathews had served 10 days in jail in September of last year for fraudulent use of a credit card. In November she was working as a secretary for the church, but was fired from that job when the information about her arrest came to light. She then filed a lawsuit alleging that her termination had to do instead with a sexual relationship she had been involved in with her supervisor, Bill McLaughlin, a volunteer at the church and chairman of the church board.
Mathews stated that she was forced to have sex with McLaughlin from the outset of her employment, including incidents in the sacristy, and spankings with a wooden paddle. She claims she was fired on November 6 after breaking off the relationship. Also involved in the scandal was a reported $100,000 embezzlement that both she was suspected of, and she in turn placed the blame on McLaughlin. That case is still pending. The San Francisco Examiner also reported a past history of Mathews of drug abuse and arrests, and even an instance of her living at a house raided by the FBI for a counterfeiting operation.
Zephyr Makik Carter has had his own recent run in with the law. He was picked up by Berkeley Police on January 20 of this year and charged with possession of a controlled substance, giving false information to a police officer, unauthorized use of another person’s ID, and 17 counts of grand theft for stolen credit cards. Michael Dean Anger was arrested on December 7 for possession of a controlled substance and possession for sale by the Vallejo Police. Nicole Dunlap was arrested twice recently. She was arrested by Alameda Sheriffs on November 8 for possession and sale of controlled substances, and then on March 20 in Cupertino for the same charges along with unlawful use of a drivers license.
This team of five, at least four of whom had recent criminal experience including drugs, forgery and credit card theft, banded together with big plans to make some money and apparently enjoy some stimulants. (No recent incidents from Robert Serrato could be found.) What they must not have anticipated, however, was that the ATM security at the Graton Casino would allow the resort’s internal cash machines to detect their fraudulent transactions and alert the staff to the attempt, which led to the capture of two of them within hours of each other.
All five of the ill-fated team were arrested and charged with forgery, theft of credit card info, altering credit cards, manufacturing false ID documents, burglary, possession of stolen access (ATM) cards, theft of credit or other identification, giving false identity to a peace officer, vehicle theft and possession of stolen vehicles, possession of methamphetamine and paraphernalia, and finally, tying it all together, conspiracy. Some were also charged with various parole violations and outstanding warrants. They were all booked into Sonoma County jail. Investigators continue to work out the details, and are seeking other potential victims.