3 men shop till police get the drop on them $25,000 spree ends in fraud arrests

September 22, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

They were just three guys from New Jersey who came to Baltimore for a weekend shopping trip. But what a trip.

In three days, police said, they charged $25,000 worth of computers, fax machines, camcorders, clothes and expensive cologne, as well as meals and motels.

With a van to carry their purchases, they literally shopped till they dropped -- right into the arms of a Baltimore County patrolman who arrested them Sunday in Middle River, uncovering what police believe is a sophisticated stolen credit card ring.

"They've been busy little beavers," said Officer James Chenworth of the White Marsh precinct.

By yesterday afternoon, the three were in the Baltimore County Detention Center on bond of $250,000 each, police said.

John Benvenuto, 27, of Hackensack; Tim Nicholetti, 28, of Upper Saddle River; and Bernard Recanati, 28, of Hasbrook Heights were each charged with one count of credit card fraud.

Baltimore County police said they expect to bring more charges against the men, who are suspected of using doctored American Express cards and phony IDs to buy merchandise along the East Coast.

At the time of the arrest, police confiscated 25 American Express cards, as well as 15 fake photo IDs and a van full of new merchandise.

The American Express cards had apparently been stolen, ironed flat, then re-embossed with names and credit card numbers obtained from stolen carbon copies of receipts from other cardholders, police said.

The magnetic stripes on the back had also been recoded so that the correct name and number would appear when the cards were passed through cash register readers.

American Express officials told county investigators yesterday that three men of similar description are suspected of having charged thousands of dollars' worth of other goods last Wednesday and Thursday in Boston.

"It looks like Massachusetts, Philadelphia and New Jersey are all looking at these men," Officer Chenworth added.

Because of the large number of fake credit cards and the amount of money involved, the Baltimore office of the Secret Service is also looking into the case.

County police said that between trips to the stores, the three had time to take in the University of Maryland football game on Saturday and treat themselves to a champagne brunch in Columbia.

Sunday afternoon found two of the men in the Office Depot store at 8645 Pulaski Highway, across from Golden Ring Mall, police said. The third was outside in a rental van.

At the store, police said, one of the men tried to purchase two fax machines worth $1,154.98.

When the card was not immediately approved and the sales clerk notified the manager, the man allegedly grabbed the card and fled with his companion.

Three employees chased them, and police were called. Officer Jerry Reider pulled them over on Pulaski Highway at Middle River Road.

Police said a manager at the Office Depot on Joppa Road in Towson also identified two of the men as customers who purchased a $2,700 laptop computer from his store on Saturday.

During that incident, American Express officials told a sales clerk over the phone that she needed identification for the sale to be completed. The man with the card took the phone, spoke briefly and then hung up, saying that the authorization code was "24."

The clerk completed the sale and the men left. But American Express officials called back a few minutes later to say that the sale had not been approved and that the man had simply hung up.

"That's how smooth they are," said Officer Chenworth. "It's not like they didn't know what they were doing. They knew exactly what to say."

Since their arrest, police said, the suspects have refused to say anything. Police said that two even gave false names at first. Mr. Recanati said he was Frank Rizzo (the name of the late former mayor of Philadelphia), and Mr. Nicholetti said he was William Perrins, police said.

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