The Williamstown Police Department (WPD) has charged a Williams student with 11 criminal charges, including at least one felony. After an investigation that began on March 9, the WPD uncovered various counts of credit card fraud and identity theft. The student allegedly used his computer and at least two different credit card numbers to purchase $5,000 worth of computer equipment. He may also have been attempting to purchase as much as $9,000 worth of appliances. Formal charges will be presented to the student at his arraignment on April 29 at 8:30 a.m. at the North Adams District Hall.
The investigators handling the case – led by WPD officer David Lemieux, with assistance from the Mass. State Police forensic computer unit and State Police detectives from the Berkshire County District Attorney’s office – obtained a search warrant for the student’s room on April 1. As a result, the student has been charged with three counts of improper use of a credit card, two counts of attempt to commit a crime to wit larceny over $250.00, three counts of using the identity of another, one count of larceny over $250.00 and two counts of possession of a false ID.
“It sounds like a classic case of overcharging, number one,” said the student’s attorney, Tom Kokonowski of Antonucci and Associates, based in Lenox and Springfield, Mass. “It’s very important to remember that these are simple allegations – proving something beyond a reasonable doubt is a totally different matter.”
Kokonowski also called into question the legality of the searches conducted by state investigators. “It’s interesting to note that they were prohibited from conducting their search at night and they did,” Kokonowski contends. “I can already see there will be issues to be challenged regarding police misconduct.”
“We had the right to be in there at the time we were in there per the search warrant,” Lemieux said in response to the implication of police misconduct. The police report on the investigation stated that the official search was conducted on Monday, April 1 at 8 p.m. Lemieux has said that the search warrant the WPD obtained allowed them to conduct searches at all times but the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The WPD was first alerted to the possibility of criminal activity in the area on March 9 following a call from a victim in New York State. The victim, whose identity has thus far been withheld, was initially told by Apple Computer that a number of orders originating from the Williamstown area had been charged to her credit card.
“We received a call from a party out of New York State, she was contacted by the Apple Computer company and they advised her of the charges made on her credit card,” Lemieux said. “They picked up on a fraudulent charge made out to her account.”
After notifying the WPD of the irregularity, the police began looking into the matter and obtained their search warrant some three weeks later. “I spoke with a representative from Apple,” Lemieux said. “They did a little background work and they were able to trace the IP address from the student’s computer back to the College.”
“The student told us the credit card information was found by ‘dumpster diving’ – digging through dumpsters trying to find a receipt,” Lemieux explained. “‘Dumpster divers’ get their information off the credit card receipt and attempt to make charges from that number. We know of two different victims so far, one from New York and one from Texas.”
Though Kokonowski has advised his client not to speak to the press, the student commented to a reporter from The North Adams Transcript that he had “bought them so I could re-sell the computers for a profit.”
Kokonowski is currently the student’s defense, but claims that he has not been made privy to the actual charges that the WPD plans to make against the student.
“I don’t advise a client one way or the other until I have every single piece of evidence, and I haven’t even seen a police report yet,” Kokonowski said, when asked if he would advise the student to try and negotiate a plea bargain.
Williams College spokesman Jim Kolesar told The Advocate that “the College has investigated the matter, and [the student] will be subject to disciplinary actions.” College officials have yet to comment on the specifics of the disciplinary action they intend to impose on the student.