TV service call leads to an arrest Fraud: A credit card with the wrong name and houseful of appliances bring policeman under cover as a repairman.

September 25, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A man who allegedly used a fraudulently obtained credit card to fill his house with BGE appliances was caught after he called to get his 52-inch projection television set fixed, Baltimore police said yesterday.

The repairman who showed up at Jerome King Talley's Memorial Stadium-area home Monday morning was actually an undercover police officer posing as a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. employee. The set and other appliances had been bought at a BGE outlet store.

Police said the officer walked through the two-story brick rowhouse and noted $10,000 worth of BGE merchandise -- from an ice maker to a surround-sound stereo -- all allegedly bought with a credit card obtained in the name of a retired substitute teacher from Dundalk.

Talley, a 29-year-old teacher's aide who works with handicapped children at Forest Park High School, was charged with theft and conspiracy. He was arrested later Monday at the school and is free on personal recognizance.

Police said they had been investigating Talley for months, and were trying to get enough information to obtain a search warrant for his home in the 700 block of Montpelier St.

Talley unwittingly helped authorities out by calling in the repair order. The search warrant, said Sgt. Ernie Anderson of the city Police Department's fraud unit, was "based off of the call for service out of the house."

The arrest brings relief to 71-year-old Esther Berrent, who has worked since August to clear her marred credit rating while taking care of her husband of 51 years, a substitute teacher who worked at Forest Park.

"I think it is terrible that a person can do this to seniors," Mrs. Berrent said yesterday. "This can really happen to anyone."

Police and Berrent believe the personal information needed to obtain the credit card came from a school meeting in September 1996, in which Berrent and others had to fill in a sign-in sheet that requested their names and Social Security numbers.

The information was required to keep employees from skipping the mandatory sessions held during the workday, Mrs. Berrent said.

A school system spokeswoman denied that the meeting was sponsored by the school system.

Talley, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has been criminally charged more than a dozen times since 1991 with credit card and check fraud, theft and forgery.

He has been convicted twice, court records show.

He received two years' probation in 1991, and in March he completed another three years' probation stemming from a guilty finding in 1994 on a forgery charge.

Police said he had stolen credit card numbers from patrons of a downtown restaurant where he worked. A judge in that case ordered Talley to undergo drug and alcohol screening, perform 200 hours of community service and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

In addition to his latest charges, Talley has two other cases pending. He was charged with theft in July and with passing bad checks in June.

Police said BGE officials seized the merchandise from the Montpelier Street house but will probably have to destroy the items because they are in poor condition. Anderson described the house as overrun with cockroaches and said the "top-of-the-line" appliances were filthy and in disrepair.

"It was beyond description," Anderson said. "He had nice stuff, but when it wore out, he just got new stuff."

Marcy Crump, a school system spokeswoman, described Talley as a teacher's aide who was hired in 1989. She said he took a sick day yesterday.

Officials said they have not made a decision as to whether disciplinary action will be taken.

School Police Chief Leonard Hamm said officials conduct criminal background checks on as many of the 17,000 system employees as they can, but concentrate more on new hires.

"Maybe we hadn't gotten around to [Talley] yet," he said.

Mrs. Berrent said she first noticed a problem in August when she got a BGE bill listing the appliances, which police said had been delivered to Talley on the same day.

They included a Pioneer stereo, refrigerator, washer, dryer and the television set, which cost $2,089.

Anderson said Mrs. Berrent "was just beside herself. She tried to work things out with different credit card companies with no luck. It's caused her untold problems."

Mrs. Berrent said the suspect had listed her Dundalk address as his former address and had his electric bill sent to her house. She said Talley's phone bill was in her husband's name. And when she tried to fix the problems, she got the runaround.

"They kept telling me, you have to prove you didn't buy this," she said.

Now, Mrs. Berrent said, her credit report has been cleared. But it hasn't been easy. "You have no idea what a person goes through when you are a victim of fraud," she said.

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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