By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer
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.
Ray was able to tentatively identify the men through a picture database shared with other police departments.
Hermitage patrolmen then identified the pair through the pictures, having dealt with them in the past concerning stolen credit cards, police said.
“Hermitage police were able to put them in the area around the time (they used the card in question),” Menster said. “It was pretty apparent that it was them.”
Police surmised the pair may have been going around checking for unlocked doors in the area of the condemned house.
Smith was arrested in Lawrence County and arraigned by Judge Dennis Songer. He was taken to Mercer County jail after failing to post $10,000 bond.
Police are still looking for his accomplice.