Arrests in jail phone scam only the tip of the iceberg, police say

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26 2013 7:15 p.m. MST

FARMINGTON — Several people face felony charges in connection with a phone scam that is costing CenturyLink and victims thousands of dollars. 

The scam started about four years ago and was still going on as of two weeks ago, according to Clearfield Police Sgt. Kyle Jeffries. At the heart of the scam, inmates had access to people's personal information.

John Evens, a victim of the scam, said he had to work hard to clear his name from a debt he never owed.

"You almost have to check on a daily basis because it's too scary out there," Evens said. "CenturyLink sent me a statement that I owed them $1,385."

He said he was surprised to see a bill from a company he had never heard of and was not doing business with. That was at the end of 2010.

Evens was one of many victims of an elaborate scheme police say was taking place behind the walls of the Davis County Jail.

Police said two former inmates, Michael Rivera, 32, and Eric Kamahele, 25, used stolen identities to set up CenturyLink phone accounts.

According to court documents, the defendants — along with Nikkol Juanita Guajardo, 31; Aurora Flores, 24; Frances Nicole Ramirez, 25; Brandie Lyn Suiter, 20; and Tina Feve Deluna, 31 — conspired to establish a telephone account in a victim's name so they could all have calls made to that number forwarded to telephone numbers assigned to one of the defendants who was serving time at the Davis County Jail, their friends or relatives. Jeffries said they would charge other inmates $100 a line.

Rivera and Kamahele are now serving prison time for other crimes, but their scam, which began in 2009, is still running rampant in jails across the state, Jeffries said.

“They've spread this around between the inmates,” he said. “Before they would leave, they let other inmates know how to do the same exact scam. This is just the tip of the iceberg with these guys getting this going.”

The scam has cost CenturyLink about $200,000, according to police. The number of victims is unknown but could reach about 1,000. Many haven’t reported it or just paid off the debt on their own.

Evens caught it, but it took nearly a year to resolve. He still worries that his name and Social Security number are vulnerable to thieves.

“How in the world they got a hold of that I don’t know, and as of today, it’s still a mystery to me,” Evens said.  

Police said they still don’t know how the suspects got people’s information. Police served a search warrant in Rivera's jail cell and found names, birthdays and Social Security numbers stored on his cellphone.

Each defendant faces felony counts of communications fraud, pattern of illegal activity and identity fraud, according to charges filed Friday in 2nd District Court. The case is still under investigation, and more arrests could be made.

There are things people can do to protect themselves from scams, Jeffries said.

“The best thing you could do is always keep your information safe and locked up, and you also need to be doing credit checks on yourself and find out if there is any outstanding debt that may be applied to your name and (Social Security number),” he said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: syi@ksl.com

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