Maryland authorities are investigating a group of cross-dressing thieves who allegedly stole credit cards and checkbooks around the state and who may be part of a criminal network organized like sororities.
Instead of mob-style families, they are associated with "houses," investigators said.
"You've got the House of Khan, the House of Ebony, the House of Revlon," said one federal agent, naming some of the organizations operating on the East Coast.
Not all the members - mostly men who dress as women - are believed to be involved in the credit card fraud. But according to authorities, the gang operating in Maryland is responsible for more than 50 credit card thefts.
In Anne Arundel County, three men, often mistaken for women by their victims, have been charged with targeting nearly 30 small businesses this spring and summer. They are accused of distracting the clerks, then taking wallets, credit cards and checkbooks from the clerks' purses or robbing the stores' cash drawers.
Using the stolen checks, cash and credit cards, they allegedly bought food, clothes, expensive jewelry, and an oak dining room set, said Anne Arundel County Detective Tracy Morgan, who has been working with several other detectives following a trail of credit card receipts, video surveillance tapes and theft reports.
"It's been crazy," she said yesterday of the case, which has led detectives from Anne Arundel to Ocean City and Southern Maryland, where purchases have been made and several suspects have been arrested and charged.
Multiple credit-card fraud and theft charges were brought in July in Anne Arundel County against Lamont Edward Fleming, 22, of Washington and Lamar Hammonds, 31, of Suitland. Both men have been released on bond.
A third suspect, who has not been identified by police, is wanted on suspicion of theft, fraud and conspiracy.
Further charges, including identity theft, forgery and passing a stolen check, are under consideration as the cases are being reviewed by prosecutors and police, said Clifford Stoddard Jr., assistant state's attorney.
He said similar cases against the men are pending in Prince Frederick.
Other areas where the group is believed to have operated include Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Stoddard said authorities suspect there are more cases because some victims might not have reported the crimes, and other cases of theft under review by officials might turn out to be tied to the same ring.
Police and prosecutors from the areas where the rings suspects allegedly stole wallets and went on spending sprees are likely to coordinate their prosecutions, Stoddard said.
Anne Arundel County detectives report the thieves hit 17 businesses over four months, including four dry cleaners, a pet store and a florist. In Annapolis, at least five clerks have been victims, said Annapolis police Detective Pete Medley.
"They're very good," said Medley. "They'll go in the store, usually in a group of three. One will ask the clerk for size 10, the other for something in blue. While the clerk is going in two different directions, the third [thief] takes the credit card or checkbook."