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ID theft hits big leagues, cops say




ID theft hits big leagues, cops say
ID theft hits big leagues, cops say



http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0612210120dec21,1,2056825.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed 

By Dave Wischnowsky
Tribune staff reporter
December 21, 2006

Searching the West Side apartment of an identity-fraud suspect this 
week, authorities allegedly discovered financial records belonging to 91 
Major League Baseball players, including White Sox slugger Jim Thome, 
former Cubs outfielder Moises Alou and star Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez.

David Dright, 38, of the 5200 block of West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, 
allegedly plucked discarded--and unshredded--loan applications, tax 
returns and other private documents earlier this year from a trash bin 
near the Northbrook offices of SFX Baseball, which negotiates contracts 
for professional baseball players.

"He was Dumpster-diving and happened to go into one by an office 
building in Northbrook," said Lincolnshire Police Detective John-Erik 
Anderson, whose department launched the investigation after an 
identity-fraud complaint from a resident who works with the Chicago 
Bulls.

"But I don't think he realized the extent of what he pulled out of 
there," Anderson said. "He recognized the names of some of the 
[major-leaguers], but I don't think he really knew. It was totally 
random."

Prosecutors said there is no evidence that Dright managed to profit from 
the information, which also included that of at least 19 Lake County 
residents.

"We don't necessarily show there's been any successful usage of credit 
cards," said Lake County Assistant State's Atty. Patricia Fix.

However, the alleged caper rattled enough cages Wednesday that a 
receptionist at MLB's New York headquarters said the phone had been 
ringing off the hook all day.

"Major League Baseball is clearly aware of this," said Anderson, whose 
department has fielded calls from Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice 
president for labor relations, and Tom Ostertag, the league's general 
counsel.

On its Web site, SFX Baseball claims to represent more major-leaguers 
than any other sports agency. Last year it served about 125 clients, or 
about 17percent of all players in the majors, baseballamerica.com 
stated.

It's unclear why the documents were thrown away without having been 
shredded, as recommended by privacy experts, myriad law-enforcement 
agencies and the Federal Trade Commission.

Officials at SFX Baseball declined to comment.

On Wednesday, Dright was charged in Lake County with 19counts of 
identity theft, authorities said. He also was charged with eight counts 
of aggravated identity theft after being accused of combing public Web 
sites for the obituaries of children to help him obtain fraudulent 
Social Security numbers, said Assistant State's Atty. Joe Fusz.

Prosecutors said Dright may face other charges in Cook County stemming 
from the possession of financial records belonging to nearly 100 former 
and current big-league players, including such stars as Juan Pierre, 
Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker, Terry Pendleton and Miguel Tejada.

Because the documents were picked out of trash in Northbrook, an 
investigation would have to be handled by Cook County authorities, Fix 
said. In addition, none of the players involved lives in Lake County, 
she said.

Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney's 
office, said officials have been in communication with Lake County but 
have not yet been formally called in on the case.

On Tuesday, Lincolnshire and Chicago police, along with the Secret 
Service and U.S. Postal Service inspectors, executed a search warrant at 
Dright's apartment, where they found two credit cards in his name that 
he had obtained without permission from Al Vermeil, a strength and 
conditioning consultant for the Bulls, authorities said.

Police were first alerted to a possible case of identity theft in 
mid-November when Vermeil filed a complaint after a credit agency 
informed him someone was using his financial identity to obtain credit 
cards and apply for mortgages.

After an investigation involving electronic sleuthing and "some 
old-fashioned police work," Anderson said, Lincolnshire police 
identified Dright as a suspect.

Vermeil's credit was accessed without his permission on four occasions, 
prosecutor Fusz said.

"No [credit card] charges were ever approved, and I didn't lose any 
money, thankfully," said Vermeil, a member of the Bulls staff since 
1985. "The credit card agency stopped everything in its tracks, and the 
Lincolnshire police did a tremendous job in cracking a big case."

Vermeil said he was surprised when detectives informed him that his 
financial information had been found alongside that of a slew of 
millionaire major-leaguers.

"Compared to those 91 guys, I'm a nobody," he said. "There were a lot 
bigger fish out there."

Dright is being held in Lake County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail. He is 
due back in court next Wednesday.

-=-

Tribune staff reporter Carlos Sadovi and freelance reporter Barbara Bell 
contributed to this report.


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