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Courts

HAMMOND — A federal judge sentenced a Region man involved in a nationwide identity theft scheme Tuesday to 154 months in prison.

Vincent E. Prunty, 35, pleaded guilty in June 2018 to wire fraud, mail fraud and identify theft charges that he, his girlfriend, Tamika L. Coleman and a Gemico T. Childress stole hundreds of identifications.

Rico Prunty of Arizona, a brother of Vincent, also is awaiting trial on a separate identify theft indictment, involving the same scheme.

The government alleges they used their victims' names, Social Security numbers and other identifiers to open fraudulent credit accounts and purchase goods and services that the government estimated could have reaped them more than $1 million.

Coleman, 41, and Childress, 44, are awaiting sentencing later this year. Prunty apologized, but also tried to downplay the impact of his crime at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.

“Only 41 victims suffered,” he said, adding the value of their illegal profit only amounted to $32,000. His defense attorney Adam Tavitas argued Prunty has two young children.

U.S. District Court Judges James T. Moody was having none of that.

“You made a conscious decision to commit crimes…very serious crimes. You changed their lives forever. You should have through about your children before you did that,” the judge admonished.

The U.S. Attorney’s office accused the defendants of stealing identifies of victims in at least 15 states as well as Canada.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Toi Denise Houston said there were 652 victims, many of them patients of an unidentified community hospital in Arizona where Prunty and his co-defendants had stolen medical admission forms.

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The forms contained sensitive information on the victims’ medical conditions as well as identifiers the defendants used, along with a credit card embossing machine to set up dozens of fake credit accounts and have the cards mailed to their residences.

The government alleges Prunty, his girlfriend, Coleman, and Childress, who went to school with them, lived in a variety of residences in Chicago, Calumet City, Crown Point, Hazel Crest, Illinois, Hammond and Whiting.

Federal authorities raided an apartment on Waltham Street in Hammond three years ago and found numerous documents, including credit information on their victims.

They found the defendants had, among other things – purchased cell phones, opened telephone accounts, obtained a false Wisconsin state identification card and opened a ComEd utility account under victims’ names.

Houston said Prunty and his co-defendants applied for as many as 40 credit cards under the name of a Whiting landlord who they wanted revenge on for refusing to renew their lease after a neighbor reported the defendant’s suspicious activity.

Houston said many victims received dunning letters demanding payment for purchased the defendants made. One victim was turned down for a car loan. Another victim was frozen out of their credit account.

A federal grand jury indicted Childress, Coleman and Vincent Prunty in early 2017. The three pleaded guilty in June 2018 under agreement that spares them the maximum penalties of 42 years in prison.

A federal grand jury indicted Rico last September. His trial is currently scheduled to begin in late October.

Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail

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