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Woman ordered to pay fraud restitution or go to jail

Ericka Michelle Keys, who conspired with her husband to use fraudulently obtained credit card numbers to make more than $100,000 in purchases, was given less than six months to make significant restitution payments or she faces 60 days in jail. Full story: <a href="http://bit.ly/1EUw0sk" target="newwin">http://bit.ly/1EUw0sk</a>
Ericka Michelle Keys, who conspired with her husband to use fraudulently obtained credit card numbers to make more than $100,000 in purchases, was given less than six months to make significant restitution payments or she faces 60 days in jail. Full story: http://bit.ly/1EUw0sk (HANDOUT)

A Baltimore woman who conspired with her husband to use fraudulently obtained credit card numbers to make more than $100,000 in purchases was given less than six months to make significant restitution payments or she faces 60 days in jail.

Ericka Michelle Keys, 47, was in Carroll County Circuit Court Wednesday based on a claim that she violated the terms of her probation by not making a meaningful effort to pay restitution. She still owes more than $98,000.

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In 2008, Keys entered a plea to multiple fraud-related charges and received a five-year suspended sentence and an order to pay restitution to the defrauded businesses, according to Senior Assistant State's Attorney Melissa Hockensmith.

The largest payment made was $3,900 which came from the sale of items seized from Keys' home during the investigation, Hockensmith said.

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Payments "trickled in" from Keys and her agent filed a violation of probation in 2012 because her probation had almost expired and she had not made significant payments, Hockensmith said. The violation of probation was continued and Keys' probation extended, Hockensmith said. Since then, Keys has made a payment of $50 most months.

"The only reason you didn't go to jail to begin with was the prospect and promise of restitution," Judge J. Barry Hughes told Keys Wednesday.

Keys' husband Charles Richard Keys Jr., 61, pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2008 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but 10 years suspended, Hockensmith said. He is currently out on parole.

Hockensmith said both parties and their attorneys agreed as a part of the plea that Charles Keys would go to prison while Ericka Keys worked to pay off the restitution ordered by the court.

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Investigators discovered at least 51 Carroll County residents whose credit card information was stolen and given to the Keyses who then made extravagant purchases from retailers such as Williams Sonoma and Brooks Brothers, according to Times archives.

Ericka Keys' attorney, Philip Dantes, said his client has been either unemployed or in school for most of her probation, which kept her from making large payments. Earlier this month, she began work as a preschool teacher and when she finishes her degree will be certified by the state.

"I don't think it's going to do the county any good to incarcerate her," he said.

Keys told Hughes she has done her best but her finances have not allowed her to make a dent in the amount owed. She also said she had to change careers because of the charges against her.

"You mean because of what you did," Hughes responded.

Hockensmith asked Hughes to incarcerate Keys Wednesday and Hughes sentenced her to 60 days in jail but delayed her entry until June 15.

"Without substantial payments, I do agree with the state that some punishment is in order," Hughes said.

Hockensmith told Keys the burden was on her to "do without" to make payments.

Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email heather.cobun@carrollcountytimes.com.

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