- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

The D.C. Office of Inspector General is investigating a reported scheme in which stolen credit cards were used to pay fines for parking and moving violations in the District, court records show.

Federal authorities last week filed arrest warrants that state two persons engaged in the scheme to pay off tickets for people at half the face value of the tickets, according to court records.

An affidavit from a D.C. Inspector General investigator states the scheme involved a man identified as Lonnell Damon Duckett offering to pay off people’s unpaid parking and moving-violation tickets. In return, he sought cash for up to half the value of the unpaid D.C. Department of Motor Vehicle tickets, court records show.

In other words, Mr. Duckett, a Transportation Department employee, would offer to wipe out $1,000 in tickets if he received $500 in cash, authorities said.

The second person in the reported scheme has been identified as Ladonna Gray and described as Mr. Duckett’s “DMV connection,” according to court records.

Investigators say once Mr. Duckett received the cash, he used stolen credit-card information — reportedly obtained from Miss Gray — to pay the tickets.

The payments were made over the Internet, a common practice by most municipalities.

The investigation began after four persons who had accounts at the same storage business in the District told authorities their credit cards were being used to pay strangers’ fines, records show.

Investigators say Miss Gray worked at the storage business.

Neither Mr. Duckett, 36, nor Miss Gray, 27, could be reached for comment.

The pair was charged under a criminal statute titled fraud and related activity in connection with access devices last week in federal court. The inspector general’s office has declined to comment on the case, including whether others were involved.

Co-workers at the Transportation Department said Mr. Duckett described Miss Gray as his inside contact, charging documents show.

In one case, Mr. Duckett’s co-worker gave him $500 in cash, then Mr. Duckett gave the co-worker a phone number to a woman he identified as “Donna,” his “DMV connection,” according to the affidavit.

“Donna” then asked for the person’s vehicle tag number before providing the person with a receipt showing that $1,500 in fines had been paid, court records show.

The U.S. attorney’s office filed complaints Nov. 27 against Miss Gray and Mr. Duckett.

Janis Hazel, a motor vehicles department spokeswoman, said motorists with tickets should be suspicious of such offers.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she said.

Miss Hazel said agency staffers are trained to detect fraud and that the security code on the back of a credit card helps prevent such problems.

She could not say whether the people who had their fines paid through the credit cards would face penalties.

“That’s up to the authorities,” she said. “It’s a criminal investigation at this point. Maybe there’s something they can do.”

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