Jan. 22—When Georgia State Patrol Cpl. Richard Sikes stopped a vehicle for speeding down U.S. 341 on an afternoon in March 2019, the behavior of the vehicle's occupants made him suspect more was afoot than just doing 85 mph in a 55 mph zone.
He called Brunswick police for backup and together state troopers and city police uncovered dozens of phony ID cards and credit cards, according to information first reported by The News on March 8, 2019.
Those local law enforcement efforts helped unravel a multi-state identity fraud gang worth more than $100,000 and involving false identities and black market cell phone sales, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office's Southern District of Georgia.
The last of four defendants pleaded guilty in the case late last year at the federal courthouse in Brunswick.
Kenson Hunte, 36, of Canton pleaded guilty late last year to possession with intent to use five or more false identification documents and aggravated identity theft, charges that carry up to five years in prison and $250,000. He pleaded guilty to similar charges related to this case in the U.S. Attorney's Office's Northern District of Alabama.
Hunte still awaits sentencing, according to Southern District of Georgia spokesman Barry Paschal.
His partners in crime, Sheryl Henderson, 39, of Norcross, Colby Hart, 27, of Vidalia and Monique Laing, 23, of Atlanta, all pleaded guilty to possession with intent to use five or more false ID documents. Laing is serving a 16-month sentence, Henderson awaits sentencing and Hart is on supervised release after being sentenced last year to time served.
State trooper Sikes encountered the foursome on the afternoon of March 8, 2019, when he spotted a rental car out of Atlanta speeding on U.S. 341 near Ga. Highway 99. The car smelled like pot and the four were taking the long way to Jacksonville, which is where the woman driving said they were headed, as reported in The News.
Sikes' backup, trooper Kelden McCrary, saw a man handing something to the other woman inside the car. That is when Sikes called Brunswick police for backup and requested they bring a K9 officer.
Brunswick investigator Meredith Tolley responded, along with Rico and his handler, Sgt. Matthew Wilson.
In the end, police found dozens of phony or stolen driver's licenses and IDs from as far away as Pennsylvania and California, along with fraudulently obtained credit cards. Some of the credit cards matched the phony IDs, police determined.
Rico led police to marijuana that was stashed in the trunk.
Brunswick police booked them into the Glynn County Detention Center, where each was held on more than $100,000 bond.
Federal agents took over the investigation from there.
It went deeper still, the feds learned.
Investigators said Hunte also used the phony IDs to score cell phones and "network contracts through a third-party retailer in a Walmart store in Homewood, Ala.," according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office, Southern District of Georgia.
"Hunte paid only a percentage of the cost up front for the phones and contracts, fraudulently purchasing approximately 127 phones," according to the attorney general's office.
Losses from the scheme totaled $104,347.
It all started because something did not square with local law enforcement during a traffic stop.
"No traffic stop is ever normal or routine for any agency," Brunswick Police Capt. Angela Smith told The News at the time of the arrests. "And we're here to assist other agencies at any time. People who are breaking the law don't have jurisdictional boundaries, so we're always ready to lend a hand to another agency."