3 in jail with more than 80 felony charges combined after alleged fraud spree in St. George

2020 file photo of police vehicles at the scene of a single-vehicle crash on Interstate 15 near Exit 40, Washington County, Utah, Nov. 2, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News/ Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — Three suspects face more than 80 felony charges combined, following an investigation that was triggered after the suspects returned to a hotel and allegedly attempted to use a fraudulent credit card for a second time in December.

The three suspects are scheduled to appear in court next week following a two-month crime spree that began in October and involved bank theft and identity fraud committed throughout St. George.

The arrests stem from an investigation that came together when officers were dispatched Dec. 22 to a local hotel on St. George Boulevard on a report of possible fraud.

According to charging documents filed with the court, three suspects were staying in a room that was reportedly paid for using a stolen credit card.

When officers arrived, they were told by hotel employees the suspects were also involved in an incident at the same hotel two months prior. Shortly after speaking with hotel staff, officers encountered two of the suspects just as the pair were leaving the room with their bags in tow.

Jason Alexander Hale, 30, of Apopka, Fla., booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Dec. 22, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Attorney’s Office, St. George News

Officers also noted the suspects were traveling in a Mercedes that had a temporary registration tag that was “poor quality” and what appeared to be a piece of reflective tape instead of an actual hologram. They also noted that all three suspects matched the description of the individuals who used a stolen credit card during their visit in October.

During the December incident, one of the suspects, 30-year-old Jason Hale of Apopka, Florida, told officers during an interview inside of the hotel room, according to reports, that he had opened a fraudulent account at a bank and used the account to deposit checks before withdrawing the funds.

While speaking with Hale, officers observed a large printer inside of the room and then requested a search warrant.

During a search of the room, officers recovered many items associated with fraudulent activity, including a black suitcase containing a second printer, a heat gun, reflective tape matching the tape on the temporary vehicle registration, a handheld paint sprayer with black paint residue, as well as more than 10 different financial transaction cards.

Also inside of the room was a safe that contained multiple copies of U.S. currency and assorted documents, as well as driver’s license issued out of Nevada in another individual’s name. They found checks, both blank and filled out, as well as checks made out to Hale and another man’s name.

John Hongjip Kim, 48, of Santa Clara, Calif., booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Dec. 22, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Attorney’s Office, St. George News

They also found papers containing handwritten personal identifying information, including items such as names, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and so on, as well as credit card numbers. Also recovered were account applications and other documents, including a large envelope containing a stack of mail belonging to several other individuals.

Through a records search officers determined that the Mercedes was reported as stolen out of Nevada; and while searching the car, authorities recovered photocopies of identification cards in the names of several individuals as well as copies of U.S. currency. They also recovered reflective paint and brushes, cutting implements, blank check paper, printed checks, checkbooks and checks that were filled out. Also located during the search were two glass pipes with a whitish residue consistent with a controlled substance.

The report said the vehicle also contained additional temporary registration papers made out to Hale with a different VIN than the one on the vehicle, as well as multiple copies of the document in the car that appeared to be falsified.

During a follow up interview at the hotel with a second suspect, 48-year-old John Kim from Santa Clara, California, the report said Kim confirmed with police they were in the local area to open accounts and pass checks, adding he had witnessed both Hale and a third suspect, 41-year-old Alexis Jones of St. George, printing off checks while staying at the hotel.

Officers searched the purse of the third suspect, who was originally booked under the name of Alexis Jones, and found five checks and multiple casino rewards cards in other peoples’ names, along with a small notebook with handwritten pages that contained personal identifying information for more than one person.

Vanessa Manley, 41, of St. George, booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Dec. 22, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Attorney’s Office, St. George News

When the courts determined that Jones’ real name was Vanessa Manley, the suspect was booked for a second time and the charges were filed under her real name.

In a separate investigation that began in October, Zions Bank reported that five checks cashed through a fraudulent account totaling more than $5,300 on Oct. 1, were returned six days later as having insufficient funds. When checking the name used to open the account, officers obtained a copy of the driver’s license; a records check revealed the license belonged to a man in Ogden with a different name, which lead officers to believe the information used to open the account was false.

Bank surveillance footage revealed that two men, one older and the other a younger Black male, were in the bank cashing the stolen checks, and earlier footage showed it was the younger man, later identified as Hale, who opened the fake account. ATM footage later showed the same man depositing checks through the bank’s ATM, and then withdrawing the funds.

The following month, officers were again contacted by Zions Bank reporting that a sixth check for nearly $850 was cashed at one of the local branches and returned as insufficient funds.

It was also during this time that all three suspects stayed at the same hotel on St. George Boulevard using a fake credit card on Oct. 6, and later officers would discover that Hale was a Marriot Gold Card member, meaning he had stayed at the company’s hotels more than 50 times.

The group did not provide a credit card to pay for the room until the following day, and when the employee ran the credit card for more than $900, it was declined. The employee went to the room and discovered they had already checked out, which is when they noticed what appeared to be forged documents that were later turned over to police.

The investigation was reopened on Dec. 22 when the suspects returned to the hotel where they were recognized by hotel employees who then called authorities. Officers were soon joined by the detective assigned to the Zions Bank investigation who also interviewed Hale about the fraudulent account.

The report also states that Hale admitted to police that he opened the account using a fake name using documents given to him by another man who also provided the six checks that were passed through the bank and then returned as insufficient funds.

Hale told police “the other male had told him it was an easy way for them to make money,” the officer noted in the report.

According to the report, Hale also told officers that he was from Florida but had been staying in Las Vegas and said he no longer had any of the documents used to open the account, nor did he have contact with the second suspect seen in the bank’s surveillance footage. The identity of that suspect is still unknown to police.

All three suspects were arrested and booked into jail on multiple charges.

Hale and Manley each face multiple third-degree felony counts each, including 16 counts of possession of a forgery device and 10 counts of unlawful acquisition of a financial card, as well as one count each of mail theft and possession of another’s identifying documents.

Hale also faces two second-degree felony counts of theft and two third-degree counts, including possession of a forged-counterfeit document or license plate and identity theft.

Manley also faces one misdemeanor count of theft of services. The Washington County Attorney’s Office recently filed additional charges against both suspects that are included above.

Kim faces 10 counts of possession of a forgery device and 10 counts of unlawful acquisition of a financial card, as well as one count each of mail theft and possession of another’s identifying documents, each a third-degree felony.

Hale and Kim are scheduled to appear in court Jan. 12 for a preliminary hearing, while Manley is scheduled for a bail reduction hearing Jan. 14. All three remain in custody without bail at the time of this report.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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