Former Elizabethton woman wanted in Internet auction scam

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   The Carter County Sheriff's Department has issued a warrant on a former Elizabethton resident who has allegedly conducted a fraudulent Internet auction scam that is receiving attention from national authorities.
   "It's taken a while to get the word out through eBay and Yahoo auction customers that they need to contact us for prosecution. It's believed that there are 30 to 40, possibly more, victims than that out there that have been taken by her. It's just a matter of finding these people and getting them in touch with the right folks," said for Carter County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant, Jamie Jenkins.
   A woman identified as Mary Crawford, formerly of 2124 U.S. Hwy. 91, currently only has minimal theft charges issued against her by local authorities because, at the time the investigation began, only three victims were reported.
   However, according to CCSD officials, victims of her scheme increase daily and charges will eventually be upgraded. Local authorities aren't certain her name is a correct personal identification, and approximately one month after the investigation began this summer, Crawford left town and has not been located.
   Crawford is also under investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspector and has been entered into the National Crime Information Center as wanted.
   CCSD Lt. Jamie Jenkins began the investigation in late June when the sheriff's department was contacted by a representative from an importing company named AA Imports of St. Louis, Mo.
   "The gentleman there advised me that he had been contacted by three separate credit card companies stating that fraudulent charges had been made on victims' credit cards," Jenkins said.
   Jenkins said the investigation revealed that approximately $945 worth of goods from the Missouri-based company had been shipped to 2124 U.S. Hwy. 91, Elizabethton.
   CCSD investigator Johnny Blankenship, who is now handling the case, said the three victims called the import company stating that their credit cards had been charged for items they didn't order. Upon further investigation, the woman was then identified as Mary Crawford. She was developed as a suspect and Jenkins interviewed her in late July.
   "After being advised of her rights, she gave a written statement to the fact that she had obtained the credit card numbers while owning a business in Flagstaff, Ariz. She then utilized the card numbers to make the purchases from AA Imports," Blankenship said.
   Investigators confirmed that the items were sent to and received by Mary Crawford at the U.S. Hwy. 91 address.
   "We did interview her in the company of her attorney, Bill Hampton, and she did confess to making those charges along with several other charges on these credit cards totaling $6,589," Jenkins said.
   Crawford was scheduled to arrive Aug. 2 with her bond signers and turn herself in to authorities; however, she never arrived.
   Jenkins said the CCSD also received calls from individuals who had posted bids on eBay for various aircraft accessories such as GPS-3 pilot systems, headsets and flight bags.
   "These individuals would bid on the merchandise and whoever won the merchandise, she would instruct them to send a postal money order payable to Mar Craw -- Mary Crawford, in other words," he said.
   Jenkins said Crawford would then get on eBay and register under the name of Mar Craw and post, for example, a GPS-3 pilot system for auction. Crawford would take bids and, once the individual(s) who made the highest bid were identified, she would send them an e-mail instructing them to send a postal money order to 2937 Doctors Lake Drive, Orange Park, Fla.
   Jenkins said that, so far, there are approximately eight victims with fraudulent charges totaling $1,600 to $1,800.
   Blankenship said Crawford's eBay advertisement stated: "Free shipping anywhere in the United States. Postal money orders only, no checks." He said it is possible that Crawford didn't accept checks because she was afraid someone might stop payment on them.
   According to Jenkins, "Once the money arrived in Florida, Crawford had arranged for the money orders to be re-routed here to her current address: 2124 Hwy. 91."
   Persons who placed winning bids, however, neither received the items they purchased nor a refund.
   "We believe what she had done was fill out a change of address. She had originally obtained that address and then changed that address for all of the mail to be forwarded up here, which would have made it a little more difficult for authorities to trace," Jenkins said.
   Since early August, Crawford apparently has left town. She and her husband, identified as Delmar Crawford, were renting their home at 2124 U.S. Hwy. 91 and were described as good tenants who always paid their rent on time, according to investigators.
   Jenkins said Crawford has been using the name Mary Crawford for approximately six years but that a positive identification has not yet been made.
   Crawford is described as a white female with short brown hair, five feet four inches tall and weighing approximately 210-220 pounds. Her birth date was given as Aug. 11, 1956. Investigators do not have a picture of the suspect.
   Anyone with information is asked to contact Blankenship at 542-1894. The case is also under investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspector.