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Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Identity thief gets 5 years ‘for ruining people’s lives’

A judge notes a woman's previous convictions before sentencing the identity thief to prison.

EVERETT -- Melissa Martin made a living making a mess of people's finances.
Dozens of victims have been left trying to clean up their credit and clear their names after their personal information fell into the convicted felon's hands. Prosecutors allege that Martin, 33, was the brains behind a identity theft scheme that preyed on everyday people whose homes, cars and even trash cans were pillaged for checks, loan documents, passports, Social Security numbers and anything else thieves could use to assume the victim's financial identity.
A judge Monday sentenced Martin to nearly five years in prison.
She pleaded guilty in December to six counts of second-degree identity theft. As part of her plea, Martin also agreed to pay back the money she stole from dozens of other victims.
Martin didn't offer an apology Monday. Instead, she tried to convince a judge to allow her to serve half of her sentence outside prison walls, getting drug and alcohol treatment. Her attorney told Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent that the woman committed the thefts to fuel her drug addiction.
Society would be better served if Martin received help for her disease, defense attorney Derek Conom said.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Tammy Bayard argued against the alternative sentence, saying that Martin was stealing people's identities to pay her own bills. Instead of getting an honest job, she chose to wreak havoc with others' finances, Bayard said.
One victim told the judge that she has worked hard since she was a young adult to build financial stability. Martin destroyed that in a matter of hours, she said. The defendant charged nearly $6,000 to the woman's credit card and stole her checks.
The victim spent countless hours speaking with police and bank officials to clean up the mess.
Snohomish County sheriff's detectives started focusing on Martin last year after someone tried to cash a bad check at an Arlington-area casino, court papers said.
Investigators searched a home in south Everett where Martin had been living. They also raided a storage unit she rented along E. Casino Road. They found hundreds of fake IDs, pieces of mail and other evidence pointing to an identity theft ring.
There were notebooks full of people's names, Social Security numbers and other financial information. Martin's computer history detailed searches for personal and financial information of the victims.
She also was accused of making checks and fake identifications. Other crooks would cash the checks and pay Martin a portion for her efforts, court papers said.
There were at least 50 people identified as victims, Bayard said.
Okrent on Monday ticked off Martin's previous convictions for identity theft, possession of stolen property and other property crimes. He said he wasn't convince that Martin deserved the opportunity to get drug treatment in lieu of prison time.
From his perspective, Okrent said Martin already had been given opportunities to better her life. Instead of changing her lifestyle, she chose to hone her skills as a criminal, the judge said.
"You got good at ruining people's lives," Okrent said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » EverettPunishmentIdentity theft

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