Alleged I-70 bank bandit faces 96 years in prison
EAGLE — Cynthia Johnson’s criminal record is 40 pages long and getting longer. She’ll stand trial for racketeering, fraud and forgery because, authorities say, she and at least two accomplices used forged credit cards and fake driver’s licenses to steal money from banks along Interstate 70.
Johnson, Vanessa Ravarre and a man calling himself Raymond Everett kept hitting the same regional banks, trying to get cash advances using the same forged Capital One credit cards and many of the same fake IDs.
One of Everett’s fake driver’s licenses listed an Illinois address. The street name, Sequoia, was misspelled. On another, Arizona was abbreviated Ax, instead of Az, according to testimony in Johnson’s preliminary hearing.
Last September, Johnson entered an Edwards bank posing as Debra Brendel, using a forged credit card and a fake driver’s license to try to get a cash advance. While Brendel’s information was correct, the photo was not.
Brendel is caucasian, according to court testimony and web searches, while Johnson is black.
Each cash advance they requested was between $4,500 and $5,000, according to court testimony.
They were successful enough to bilk banks in the region out of around $38,000, authorities say.
13 banks in two months
The three worked the I-70 corridor, hitting 13 banks between Summit County and Grand Junction in September and October 2015. The first was in Rifle, then West Glenwood, then up and down I-70 through Summit, Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties.
Johnson — who uses at least 13 other aliases including Jacqueline Murray — and Ravarre are in the Eagle County jail awaiting separate trials this spring. Everett is at large.
In court this week, Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum has said the three are possibly part of a larger organization.
During Johnson’s two-day hearing last week, McCollum presented 24 security camera photos showing Johnson, Everett and Ravarre in the bank locations.
Often they’d wear the same clothes, hairstyles and hats, and set the same purses on the counter at the teller window.
They also used the same forged cards and forged driver’s licenses in multiple banks, said Shana Woods, an Alpine Bank fraud investigator for 13 years.
The way it’s supposed to work, the customer hands a credit card and driver’s license to the teller, and asks for cash, Woods said.
The teller takes the card to the cash machine. If it clears, they get the cash. If it’s declined, the card is brought back to the customer.
What police say happened
In the 13 branches the three hit, every card was declined. They asked for between $4,500 and $5,000. The first one, in Rifle, was $4,500.72. None of the attempts to get $5,000 were successful, Woods said.
“Cards get declined occasionally, especially when customers are traveling and don’t let the bank know they’ll be using their card somewhere else,” Woods said.
After the cards were declined, Johnson and the others were sometimes able to convince the tellers to call a bogus phone number on the back of a card, and convince local bank officials to override the system and give them some money.
They told the teller that the credit card company was not aware of their travel plans, Woods said.
For that call another accomplice would pose as a Capital One customer service representative, who would say the forged cards were legitimate.
Usually, that went along with some sort of sob story about needing the money for funeral expenses or being a stranded traveler. In one, they claimed they needed the money because someone had had a stroke – although it wasn’t clear whom, Woods said.
Three weeks after the first case, a suspect matching Johnson’s description was in the Frisco bank’s lobby, and the teller called Woods.
Woods has a direct security video feed from all 38 Alpine Bank locations for which she seeks to prevent fraud. She took a look at that Frisco feed, identified Johnson, and told the teller to call 911, Woods said.
Frisco police waited until Johnson left the bank, and arrested her outside.
Johnson is already on felony probation in California, McCollum said.
Johnson was free on bond in Santa Clara County, California, where probation officials say she missed a meeting and issued an arrest warrant for her. It turns out she missed that meeting because she was in the Eagle County jail.
Johnson had been released from Folsom Prison after serving time for similar charges, McCollum said.
Johnson is being held in the Eagle County jail on $100,000 bond.
District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman sent Johnson to trial on 17 of her 18 charges.
If she’s convicted on the racketeering charges, she faces a mandatory 96-year prison sentence.
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