While assisting federal marshals serve a warrant in Strawberry, the Gila County Sheriff's Office stumbled upon what appears be part of an extensive identity theft operation, Wednesday.
"This is leading to a whole ring of stuff down in the Valley," GCSO Det. George Ratliff said, "and it's one of the biggest identity theft cases we've had in our county."
At 10 a.m., the GCSO received a call from Marshal Jason Bryant who said his office was looking for Kenneth James Richardson, 39, of Strawberry. Richardson had a federal warrant for a probation violation stemming from a mail fraud conviction.
"They did not have an address, but they had a description of him and his vehicle and a general location of where he lived," GCSO Lt. Adam Shepherd said.
Later that afternoon, marshals spotted Richardson and called the GCSO for backup.
"Myself, Sgt. Craig Smith and Deputies George Scott and Bob Bonney responded," Shepherd said. "We made entry into the home on Eagle Drive at about 2:30 p.m."
Sgt. Smith, the first officer to enter the residence, found Richardson behind a door with a loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol in his hand.
"He dropped the gun immediately," Shepherd said, "which was the smart thing to do."
Deputies also arrested Richardson's girlfriend, Connie Marcella Kriley, 33, who had a warrants out of Maricopa County.
"We saw drug paraphernalia around the house and Mr. Richardson said it belonged to him," Shepherd said. "We called the task force out to deal with the drugs."
When detectives from the Gila County Narcotics Task Force arrived, drugs were not the only thing they found.
"When the task force arrived and started to search the residence, they found other items suspected to have been stolen or obtained by fraudulent means," Shepherd said. "That's when we called out our detectives."
Ratliff arrived and realized they had found something big.
"On the dining room table, there was a lot of electronic equipment -- a laptop computer, printer, scanner and a laminating machine," Ratliff said. "We found several ID's that did not belong to the people in the house."
Ratliff called Det. Brian Havey who secured a search warrant for the residence.
"We found 25 to 30 driver's licenses," Ratliff said. "We recovered a lot of property, some of it we know was purchased with fraudulent or stolen credit cards."
According to Ratliff, Kriley, using a fake ID and stolen or fake credit cards, purchased items from the Sears store and had applied for a Sears credit card.
During the search, detectives removed two truckloads of items and had to rent a storage locker and hire movers for the brand new furnishings in the house.
"They went top-of-the-line," Ratliff said. "They got a solid oak dining room table, chairs, entertainment center, cabinets, four other tables, a three-piece sectional sofa, and appliances -- all brand new. They were all hooked up for a new wide-screen TV with surround sound stereo equipment."
Ratliff said a minivan parked in front of the home was reported stolen out of Scottsdale. The owner of the van is a double amputee, according to Ratliff.
The owner's wife had her purse stolen twice while working at a school in Paradise Valley, Ratliff said.
"The first time her purse was stolen, she had gift certificates made out to her, which we have found in (Kriley's and Richardson's) possession," Ratliff said. "The second time her purse was stolen was when they probably got the keys to the van. We found the keys to the car in (Kriley's) purse next to our victim's social security card."
Ratliff said the couple have lived in the area since the beginning of March and have been shopping locally.
"We have clothing she purchased that still has tags on it," Ratliff said. "We found wigs which they probably used to change their appearances.
"We are just beginning to sort through all the evidence," Ratliff said. "Some of the crimes occurred in Maricopa County and they will handle those cases. Those which occurred in Gila County, we will be handling."
As of Monday, detectives were continuing to go through the couple's home, gathering more evidence.
Richardson remains in federal custody in Florence, according to Ratliff. Kriley was charged with possession of dangerous drugs for sale, possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia and is currently at the county jail in Payson, where detectives plan to interview her further.