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September 19, 2013

Squatters busted after theft of credit cards

SHENANGO VALLEY — Sharon police believe two Pittsburgh men who were identified through video surveillance after stealing credit cards and using them around Mercer County may have been squatting in a condemned house on Baker Avenue in Hermitage.

Stephon D. Smith Jr., 27, Homewood, Pa., and an accomplice, were both charged with forgery and conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

Sharon police chief Michael Menster said they don’t know for sure that the two were squatting at 51 or 51 1/2 Baker Ave., but that a sister of the accomplice lived in one of the houses at some point.

The houses are the subject of a lawsuit in which the city of Hermitage has petitioned to have them demolished.

Neighbors have seen people going in and out of the condemned houses and officials believe drug and possible other criminal activity has occurred there.

The hunt for the Pittsburgh men who may have squatted in the houses started with a call from a resident in the 1200 block of Glenwood Ave., Sharon, police said.

The victim reported that a wallet was taken from their car sometime in the early morning hours of Aug. 28.

They contacted their bank and credit card companies to report the theft and learned of four unauthorized charges on their bank card, police said.

About a week later, it was found that one of the credit card companies made a mistake and did not deactivate the card, which allowed further charges to ring through from various businesses throughout the Sharon, Hermitage and surrounding areas, as far as Harrisville, in a total of about $1,400.

That mistake aided police in their investigation, according to Menster.

“The more times they used the card the better chance we had of catching them,” he said.

Going on time stamps the victim got from the credit card company, Detective Sergeant Steven Ray collected video from various businesses that clearly showed a white male and a black male using the card either together or individually and signing their name to the receipt, police said.

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