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A Santa Fe man will spend three years and four months behind bars for his role in what a judge described as an “ongoing crime wave of identity theft and fraud.”
Johnny Moreno, 41, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to 14 counts stemming from a scheme to steal credit cards from mailboxes, buy electronics and sell or trade the merchandise.
Moreno is one of five people charged in connection with the racket cracked open by sheriff’s office investigators last spring after a woman tried to cash counterfeit checks at Buffalo Thunder Casino & Resort using what prosecutors say was a purloined driver’s license.
Authorities said the woman and an accomplice were caught with a vehicle that had been reported stolen and contained various credit cards, checks, letters, driver’s licenses as well as a Social Security card. Their arrest led to a search of the home of another alleged co-conspirator, who is scheduled to take a plea deal Wednesday.
Moreno was arrested after employees at the Target store on Zafarano Drive reported to law enforcement that he used three different credit cards to buy high-dollar electronics at the store on various occasions during the course of a few weeks.
Moreno and a woman who accompanied him on at least one of the shopping trips confessed to purchasing merchandise from Target with stolen credit cards and then selling or exchanging the items for drugs, according to sheriff’s deputies.
The two told investigators they stole the credit cards from mailboxes around Santa Fe County, striking either late at night or in the early morning.
During a plea hearing on Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Peter Valencia argued that Moreno was the scheme’s ringleader.
“He was basically the one in charge of this,” he said.
Valencia described Moreno as having a “substantial” criminal record dating back to charges of grand theft auto in California in 1988 when he was a juvenile.
Addressing the court, Moreno suggested that he only got involved in the scheme after being offered a chance to earn extra cash at a time when he was under significant financial pressure.
“I was just going through a lot with my mom and my son,” he told Judge T. Glenn Ellington.
Under an agreement with prosecutors that Ellington described as “the best plea deal you could possibly get,” Moreno will serve four years in prison with credit for the eight months he has already spent in jail. Moreno will spend four years on probation after his release.
Moreno has not been charged with any federal offenses for stealing mail, which would likely carry longer sentences.