NEW PORT RICHEY — Investigators have linked nearly 3,000 pieces of stolen mail and more than 900 victims in four counties to a man arrested last week in New Port Richey, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office reported.
The man’s girlfriend also was arrested after a detective listening in on a jail telephone call between the two learned she planned to burn more stolen mail and rushed to her house to retrieve it, Sheriff Chris Nocco said.
Sheriff’s investigators, working with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, are continuing to sort through the stolen mail, trying to determine how many victims may have had their identities stolen and whether any other accomplices were involved, sheriff’s Sgt. Justin Ross said at an afternoon news conference.
Brian Michael Chipman, 30, was arrested Jan. 29 after a sheriff’s detective saw him about 1 a.m. stopping his rental car in front of residences in the Gulf Harbors neighborhood, the sheriff’s office reported. The car was running without lights and the license plate had been removed, the sheriff’s office reported.
The detective stopped the car and found multiple pieces of mail, including check books, credit cards, bank statements, Social Security numbers, and other documents containing personal information, the sheriff’s office said.
Chipman is charged with 13 counts of possessing stolen credit cards and one count of failing to return a hired vehicle. He is being held at the Land O’ Lakes Jail on a $10,000 bond.
Detectives said Chipman was likely looking for debit cards and may have planned to file fraudulent tax returns.
On Monday, Chipman’s girlfriend, Shelly Diane Johnson, 30, of 12411 Deer Lake Drive, New Port Richey, was arrested and charged with possession of another person’s identification without their consent and tampering with evidence. She was released Tuesday on $10,000 bond.
The sheriff’s office identified more than 900 victims from Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Hernando counties. Detectives are also working with law enforcement agencies from those areas to provide them with information on the victims.
In an attempt to find a connection to any past cases, detectives are looking at old incident reports for possible links. Chipman may be part of a group involved in identity theft, as well as check, credit card, and tax fraud, deputies said.
Ross said Chipman had been going through neighborhoods throughout west Pasco County, apparently looking for both incoming and outgoing mail. Ross warned residents not to leave mail in the mailbox overnight and said the red flag that alerts the mail carrier that there are items to be picked up tells criminals the same thing.
Nocco said anyone who believes they have been victimized should check bank and credit card statements carefully and notify local law enforcement if something appears suspicious.
This is Chipman’s 10th arrest since 2007. He was out on bond for a 2012 burglary case, which has yet to go to trial. That bond has been revoked due to this most recent arrest.