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Bay Area trio plead guilty to felony identity theft charges

A Bay Area trio has pleaded guilty to felony identity theft charges in connection with a long crime spree last year involving stolen credit card numbers and gift cards.

Tyrell Charles Blackshire, 21, Herbert Eugene Johnson, 30, and Joseph Edward Allen, 27, each pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft in Jackson County Circuit Court. Other charges of theft and identity theft were dropped, according to court records.

Each will spend 60 days in jail and serve two years probation. The amount of restitution they will pay has yet to be determined, court records show.

The trio cut a trail of crime from California to Portland late last year after they somehow attained a list of credit card numbers. These numbers provided the seed to their lucrative scam, Medford police said.

The trio started in California and cruised up Interstate 5 to Portland. At various stops along the way, they allegedly purchased Nordstrom gift cards from grocery outlets using stolen credit card information, then transferred money from the credit cards to the gift cards.

At Nordstrom, they would buy merchandise and then drive to another Nordstrom outlet and return it for cash.

Medford police Sgt. Scott Clausen said the men spent days motoring up and down the interstate looking for stores to scam.

They entered a Medford Safeway on March 4 and attempted to purchase Nordstrom gift cards, which are often sold near checkout lanes. Surveillance video showed them attempting to swipe multiple cards to pay for the gift cards.

They caught the attention of a Safeway employee who became suspicious after they attempted to buy the Nordstrom cards using the stolen credit cards.

Clausen said they would stand in line and keep trying the credit card numbers until one worked.

Clausen did not speculate on the exact amount the trio is accused of scamming from the credit accounts, but the aggravated identity theft charge requires a crime of at least $10,000 in value.

Detectives do not know how they attained the credit card information used in the spree. Oftentimes these numbers are provided by organized crime groups, Clausen said.

The case had many twists and turns. Detectives originally lodged numerous felony counts against them, but withdrew the charges briefly in an attempt to build a better case, Clausen said. "We are happy with the guilty pleas because these cases are difficult to make," Clausen said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.