The arrests of four local residents in a check fraud and forgery investigation has broadened to include additional arrests and the issuing of warrants for additional suspects, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday.
The initial arrests also uncovered a previously unknown theft ring that involved juveniles and stolen firearms, Sheriff Sharon Wehrly said during a press conference.
Nine adults and at least two minors have been arrested, and police are looking for two additional suspects, Kameron Varden and Joey Provenza, on firearms charges.
The investigation, titled “Operation Super Lake,” has identified nearly 200 mostly local victims and businesses, but also includes individuals and businesses in Clark County. Most of the victims of identity theft in the investigation had their information stolen via mail theft, according to police.
“The general idea was that they were stealing mail,” detective Michael Eisenloffel said. “We have several previously reported unsolved cold cases of mail theft, the vandalizing of mailboxes, especially boxes that are known as community boxes, in gated communities.”
Eisenloffel said besides the cold cases, each victim involved could become its own case. He cautioned that the department could still be in the early stages of the investigation.
“So we’re looking at a large number of cases generated, cleared and solved as a result of this entire investigation,” he said.
The forgery equipment used for making the fraudulent checks was good quality and produced checks that passed through several inspections at various sites.
“I’m not an expert on printing equipment, however the items obviously passed inspections by several check-cashing places and local casinos that are in the business of cashing checks,” said Eisenloffel about the quality of forging equipment found at Lake’s home. “They were actually able to successfully cash several forged checks.”
The arrests in the case began March 6 when Denico Yelvington was arrested after it was discovered that he was cashing fraudulent checks that had been forged at the residence of Diane Lee Lake.
The next day, Lake, 36, Christopher Raymond Biddy, 41, and David Barger, 30, were arrested after a search warrant was served at Lake’s residence on Arapahoe Street regarding a suspected check fraud scheme.
According to the sheriff’s office, the investigation began after an initial report was made on Nov. 7 regarding a report of cashing a fictitious check at a local casino by Lake. Lake reportedly returned that same day and attempted to cash another fictitious check but was refused by the staff after discovering the first check was fraudulent.
During the search at Lake’s home, police discovered evidence of an elaborate identity theft scheme being operated out of the residence, as well as evidence that stolen checks were being altered and forged there. Additionally, numerous stolen documents and other property were discovered from several previously unsolved thefts, burglaries and frauds involving numerous local victims and businesses.
As detectives were arriving to conduct the search, they observed a vehicle leaving the house and conducted a traffic stop and the occupants were identified as Biddy and Barger.
Lake was charged with eights counts ranging from forgery to possession of identifying information of another for fraudulent purposes. Barger was arrested on six charges, including five related to the ring and violation of probation and Biddy was charged with four counts stemming from the check forgery scheme.
A search warrant carried out at 4640 W. Charleston Park Ave. resulted in the arrest of Tia Diane Dircio, 37, on March 11 on charges related to the ongoing investigation into mail and identity theft as well as check fraud and forgery.
During the late evening hours of March 11, the investigation continued as detectives served yet another search warrant at the address of 2281 N. Morales Lane in Pahrump and seized additional pieces of evidence. The residents were questioned; however nobody was arrested at this address.
A search warrant served on March 11 at a residence located at 810 E. Gamebird Road resulted in Jeffrey Lee Gavalas, 54, and Jennie Lee Tedford, 30, being arrested on several charges including forgery and drug possession.
During the search, numerous pieces of evidence and items of stolen property were located and seized, as well as methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, police said.
During the course of the identity theft investigation, information was obtained that a burglary ring involving four juvenile offenders that had stolen several firearms from a local residence. They’re not believed to be closely tied to the forgery and identity theft investigation, Operations Sgt. David Boruchowitz said.
“Joey Provenza, Kameron Varden and Joshua Williams, as well as four juveniles were the gun burglary ring,” Boruchowitz said. “Unfortunately, there’s ties to this (identity theft and fraud) investigation, which is what led us to those, many of which is just based on the interviews of the detectives. So in terms of them being related, they’re related because they’re the same people playing the same games.”
The investigation showed that one of the juveniles received help from Kameron Varden to help conceal the crime from law enforcement. A search warrant was served at Joey Provenza’s home where Varden lived, which resulted in the arrest of Joseph Williams, the only adult home at the time, on drug charges.
Police found a gun in Provenza’s room, and a warrant for his arrest was issued for a felon in possession of a firearm. While Varden, who already has a misdemeanor warrant out for his arrest on DUI charges, is also being investigated on child abuse, four counts of possession of a stolen firearm, and obstructing a police officer charges.
Two juveniles were also arrested during an additional search that yielded the recovery of stolen ammunition, assault rifles, and parts for assault rifles, police said.
The ninth suspect, James Watson, was interviewed and released, and charges have been requested in a conspiracy to aid Lake, according to police.
The USPS Inspectors, Social Security Administration, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Treasury Department, U.S. Veterans Administration, U.S. State Department, F.B.I., Nevada DMV and California DMV have been notified or are involved the investigation.
Anyone with information as to Provenza’s or Varden’s whereabouts or feel that they also might be a victim of the alleged identity theft ring is asked to call (775) 751-7000 or confidential e-mails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eisenloffel said that residents should pursue other avenues to submit payment other than through the mail with a check, like paying online or in person.