Former Hawaiian beauty queen at center of South Bay identity theft investigation
When Susan E. Shaw was arrested after arriving at a Honolulu airport last month, authorities said she used fraudulent credit cards to pay for that Hawaiian Airlines flight to and from Los Angeles, much like she had done on roughly 60 other round-trip flights she had taken in the previous year and a half.
Shaw, who was named Miss Hawaii International in 1992, traveled to Southern California and the mainland regularly over that period. To pay for the flights, Hawaiian prosecutors said in indicting Shaw, the former beauty queen stole the identities of at least 11 people and generally applied for seven credit cards in each of their names.
She allegedly would then use the cards for thousands of dollars in clothing and trips, among other things, police said. Sometimes to pay off debt from one fraudulent credit card, she would use another, according to court documents.
The identity-theft victims referred to in the indictment are all believed to be from Hawaii. Manhattan Beach police, however, are now investigating whether there are more victims in Southern California.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Van Marter of the district attorney's office in Honolulu said Shaw racked up at least $160,000 in total credit-card charges from January 2008 to April 2009 in what is "one of the largest identity theft cases [ever] prosecuted in Hawaii."
In a telephone interview, Van Marter said he is seeking a life sentence. Authorities allege that Shaw, 35, first put holds on her victims' mail by submitting false applications to the post office, and then had the credit cards sent to other addresses, where she closely monitored the mailboxes for their arrival. The 122-count indictment includes charges of first-degree identity theft, money-laundering, credit-card fraud, forgery, and first-degree theft. She is in custody and her bail is set at $1 million.
Shaw's only previous offense was a 1994 felony theft charge, said Van Marter, who is chief of Honolulu's white-collar crime unit.
Shaw could not be reached for comment.
Van Marter said her alleged actions are all the more extraordinary because she hid her thefts and the reasons for her trips from her long-time male partner and family in Hawaii. Van Marter said she would tell her family she had various business appointments that she needed to attend to on the mainland.
"She was not employed," he said.
She had two children with her partner and one child from a previous relationship, and told her family that she was a high-powered entertainment lawyer in Hollywood who worked with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and on movie productions, and needed to be on the mainland for work.
But Shaw is not an attorney and does not frequently work in Hollywood, Van Marter said. While she was in the Los Angeles area, Van Marter said, she had relationships with several men, including one who believed the two were engaged, and a current boyfriend who knew nothing of her alleged thefts or her life in Hawaii, he said. Van Marter said it is unclear if Shaw is married to her male partner of about eight years in Hawaii, but that he also apparently knew nothing of the scheme and is cooperating with authorities.
Authorities watched Shaw closely before taking her into custody and thought they knew the scope of her scheme. But a phone call shortly after her May 7 arrest brought the story to Manhattan Beach and led to the discovery of dozens of other potential victims. A woman in Southern California who said she was friendly with Shaw was worried that she herself had been scammed, and after reports of Shaw's arrest, the friend called Manhattan Beach Police Det. Joe Aiello to see if any of the alleged victims were in Southern California.
The friend also said she could also show Aiello where Shaw lived. Aiello jumped at the opportunity and called Van Marter in Hawaii to tell him about the tip. A search warrant was quickly written and signed by a judge.
"We just got lucky," Aiello said. The witness "was willing to stick her neck out."
Authorities said that when Shaw first began coming to Southern California, she would stay at hotels like the Marriott or in the homes of the men with whom she had relationships. She later lived in Hermosa Beach, and this year rented a room in a Manhattan Beach condo on 11th Street. Aiello said that in her closet and desk, he discovered the full credit profiles of at least 25 more potential victims.
According to a copy of the search warrant, police also discovered 10 Hawaiian Airlines gift cards with a total value of $1,000, a gift card for Southwest Airlines for $100, several gift cards for Levi's clothing, and a $50 gift card for Shell gasoline.
"We didn't have to dig very hard," Aiello said. Aiello said it did not appear as though any of the credit profiles of Hawaii residents found in Shaw's Manhattan Beach room had been used, but said he is asking that people who knew her check their credit reports.
He said Shaw "had a back-story for everything" and apparently lied frequently to those around her about her relationships, whereabouts, and employment, among other things. Van Marter said that based on the Manhattan Beach discovery of the additional victims, more charges could follow the 122-count indictment.
Van Marter said he is also trying to have Shaw's bail revoked.
-- Ari B. Bloomekatz in Manhattan Beach
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