Three accused of racketeering in credit card scheme

March 11, 2009

Three people were arrested Tuesday at a west-side Colorado Springs home on suspicion of  cloning as many as 100 credit and debit cards, then running up about $25,000 in charges.

Mark Nielsen, 33, Corey Skinner, 24, and Amanda Stillwell, 22, all of Colorado Springs, were arrested by Colorado Springs police financial crimes and SWAT officers about 2 p.m. Tuesday at a home in the 2100 block of Boston Terrace.

The three have been cloning credit cards since early 2008, said detective Wayne Lambert. The three, broke open gym lockers, obtained personal information from the cards' magnetic strips, then made indistinguishable copies on store-bought gift cards, Lambert said.

In October, Ent Federal Credit Union alerted police that a few dozen customers who had been defrauded. An investigation tied all the victims to a fast-food restaurant, where police learned that employee Shellie Ortiz, 34, had been recruited into the scheme. She was arrested in November.

The three then returned to gyms, moving on to Woodland Park, Pueblo, and Broomfield to avoid detection, Lambert said. Police from those cities found more victims, and helped locate the suspects after they used the cloned cards in Colorado Springs.

Police believe Nielsen, Skinner and Stillwell used the money to buy equipment to forge credit card, hydroponic plant-growing equipment, and for living expenses, Lambert said. All three had been arrested before on theft and related charges. A small marijuana-growing operation was found in the Boston Terrace house, where all three lived, Lambert said.

Police have identified up to 100 victims, and $15,000 in confirmed fraudulent charges. Both of those numbers are likely to rise as more victims discover the crimes, and customers at all of Colorado's major banks may be involved, Lambert said.

Since the cards themselves were not stolen, many of the cardholders were unaware for some time that they were defrauded, Lambert said.

"The poor victims, they know something happened to them, they just don't know where it happened at," he said.

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