Impostor preys on mom’s good name

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DENVER -- 31-year-old Amanda Jo Garcia has plenty of reasons to pretend to be someone else.

Police and court records show Garcia has been arrested 21 times in Colorado on at least 80 different charges, including forgery, fraud, criminal impersonation, drugs, and theft to list a few.

If she’s ever had a driver’s license, there’s no record of it this decade -- only a long trail of citations for speeding, impaired driving, and being a habitual traffic offender with a bad habit of skipping court dates.

Garcia has spent a few days in jail here and there, but the legal system has largely let her off the hook, instead making plea deals and refusing to enforce flagrant violations of her court-ordered probationary conditions.

Amanda Garcia Booking Photo 8.24.18 (003)

Amanda Jo Garcia

Jenell Mejia hopes that lenient treatment will finally come to an end following a FOX31 Problem Solvers investigation into Garcia and how she allegedly used Mejia’s ID in a series of crimes.

Mejia has a family, a great job, good credit, and no criminal record – the perfect victim to impersonate if you have a record like Garcia.

Mejia’s troubles started in 2016 when an unknown person broke into her car and stole a purse containing her ID. She did all the right things at the time: reported the theft to Denver Police, canceled her credit cards, applied for a new driver’s license, and watched her credit report.

Mejia told FOX31 she thought she was in the clear until she learned in July someone had used that stolen ID to open a new cell phone account. The bill was long past due by the time she found out and the phone company told Mejia she had to prove her ID was stolen and misused or pay up.

jenelle

Jenell Mejia / Victim of ID Theft

Then came a call from a Lakewood police officer in August 2018 investigating a case of shoplifting at the Colorado Mills Mall.

“She asked, “Are you Jenell?’ I said, ‘Yes’. ‘We have someone here who was caught shoplifting and trying to use your name. They misspelled it. That’s when I decided to look up in the system and saw it was not you,’” Mejia told FOX31 during an on-camera interview.

According to Lakewood police reports, they arrested a woman claiming to be Jenell Mejia for resisting arrest and shoplifting. Police noted she was “uncooperative.”

Once at the jail, the woman’s story fell apart. The fingerprinting process confirmed the person in custody was really Amanda Garcia. In addition to shoplifting and resisting arrest, the Jefferson County District Attorney hit Garcia with a criminal impersonation charge. Records show Garcia was able to bond out with a promise to pretrial services she would stay out of trouble with the law until her next court date.

That was Aug. 20, but FOX31 discovered Garcia had at least two additional encounters with police in 2018 after that. In one case, Garcia successfully lied to Denver Police, pretending to be Mejia. In the other, Garcia had Mejia’s ID in her pocket, but police didn’t consider it a crime at the time.

That Denver Police encounter on Sept. 27, 2018 became a nightmare for Mejia, who had no idea Garcia had struck again. In fact, Mejia assumed Garcia was still in jail.

Around Nov. 20, Mejia received a letter from the Colorado Department of Revenue – Motor Vehicle division. It had been mailed to her former address, the address on her stolen ID from 2016. The Post office forwarded the mail to her new address.

“It was a notice that basically said I failed to appear in court and they were going to suspend my license,” Mejia told FOX31. “I need to be able to drive or I could lose my job. It is so stressful. My family, that’s the hard part. How much stress because, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ they tried to use my name for something I didn’t do!”

That letter from the state included a Denver traffic citation number for speeding, something Mejia knew had to be a mistake. She was 25 miles away at the time the ticket was issued, did not recognize the license plate or make/model of car listed on the ticket, and the address was wrong. Yet, there was her full name and correct date of birth written on the citation by police.

Mejia thought she could get the ticket quashed by writing to the Denver courts, submitting her time sheet from work, a sworn statement from her boss, the Denver crime report which showed her ID was stolen several years prior, and that Lakewood police report which showed a stranger had falsely used Mejia’s name during an arrest for shoplifting at the Colorado Mills Mall in August.

To her surprise, instead of dismissing the ticket, she received a letter ordering her to appear in person in court in January. If she did not, Mejia would lose her driving privileges and face arrest. Even worse news, DMV had a license suspension hearing set in December – a month before Mejia would even get a chance to prove the mistaken identify in Denver Court.

She contacted FOX31 Problem Solvers for help.

Our investigative team focused on the vehicle listed in that Denver traffic citation, a 2008 Nissan Altima, plate number DCO 341. FOX31 located the actual car at an apartment complex in Denver near the 22-hundred block of Court Place.

That same vehicle was stopped by Lone Tree Police outside the Park Meadows Mall right after Thanksgiving.

According to the Lone Tree police report, JC Penny’s loss prevention unit called police “that there was a Hispanic female in the store.. removing price tags and anti-theft sensors off of clothing.” The female, along with male accomplice then reportedly “exited the door passing a register without paying for any of the merchandise.” The stolen merchandise recovered is listed on the report as worth $463.57.

A police officer reported that he ran to the parking lot in time to stop the woman he witnessed piling the shoplifted clothes in a white Nissan Altima, the same one listed on Mejia’s phantom speeding ticket. Lone Tree Police arrested Amanda Jo Garcia for the shoplifting theft but let the man with her go with a simple citation.

Lone Tree discovered Garcia had multiple warrants, both out of Denver and Jefferson County. They also allegedly discovered one more piece of valuable evidence from her pocket – Jenell Mejia’s ID card.

Because of that arrest, Garcia’s bond agent, who had loaned her two-thousand dollars to get out of the Jefferson County jail in August, rescinded the bond.

Garcia currently sits in that jail on charges connected to the Lakewood mall case. She declined a request from FOX31 to discuss her impersonation of Mejia.

Amanda Jo Garcia

Despite the growing proof that Garcia has been masquerading as an innocent Mejia, Mejia could not get either the Denver City Attorney’s office or DMV to dismiss her cases.

It’s hard. Stressful. Emotionally, mentally. Physically,” said Mejia. “It’s hard to explain it. Until someone goes through it you just don’t know. It just doesn’t make sense as to why I wasn’t believed when I submitted everything.”

FOX31 called the Denver City Attorney’s Office to share our findings and ask if there was police body camera video collected during the September traffic stop. It turned out, there was.

And when Denver police and the City prosecutors reviewed it, “Mejia’s” citation and all related threats of warrants were immediately dropped. Denver Police also initiated a new criminal investigation into whether Garcia is the one which provided false statements of her identity during that traffic stop. Both agencies also offered to help Mejia clean up any false police records and vouch for her with DMV.

By then, FOX31 had already put Mejia in touch with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation ID Theft and Fraud Division. The unit was established with two missions: to attack how organized crime uses ID theft to raise funds for more violent crimes and to hands-on help victims like Mejia.

“If you haven’t become a victim yet of identity theft and fraud – you will be. It’s a matter of time,” said Ralph Gagliardi, Agent-in-Charge of the fraud program. “Victim’s advocates in the ID theft unit work with to and work with victims to repair the damage done by the bad guys when they used the victims good name to get arrested or buy goods and services, our advocacy group works to repair that.”

CBI

Ralph Gagliardi CBI Agent in Charge ID Theft and Fraud

Gagliardi told FOX31 good people like Mejia are perfect victims of ID theft and fraud.

Selling of personal information for people with clean records and good credit are lucrative, and not just for petty thieves.

“The ID theft and fraud we do see, the items stolen, whether out of mailboxes or cars, are going towards a larger criminal organization that are into violence,” Gagliardi said.

A CBI victim advocate recently met with Mejia and start working to fix credit issues with a that fraudulent cell phone bill and getting DMV to stop threatening to pull her drivers license.

CBI experts tell FOX31 they will also make certain any notation of an arrest, charge, or police encounter, listed inside statewide police computer systems, does not incorrectly name Mejia instead of Garcia.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, CBI recommends you first call and report it to local police, then monitor all your banking and credit reports.

Additional help for victims is available in Colorado by filling out a form on the CBI website  or calling CBI’s 24hr ID Theft Hotline at 1-855-433-3489.

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