|(Seguin) -- One of the largest crimes in identity theft and fraud ever uncovered in Guadalupe County appears to be headed to an end with next week's sentencing by a federal court and other local state charges headed to before a judge this summer. It was May 2017, when investigators with the Guadalupe County Sheriff's Office say they first stumbled across one of the most unusual and even perhaps questionable criminals ever to live in this community. |
Sgt. Zach McBride says they began an investigation into fraud at the Zion Hill Baptist Church located on Zion Hill Road on the county's southeast side. Church members told investigators that some money was missing from their account and had gone to a credit card in the name and address of Daniel Walker who lived across the street. Upon digging deeper, investigators quickly found that Daniel Walker is actually Gary Albro and found that the money missing from Zion Hill went to pay off his credit card.
"He identified himself as Gary Albro living there but Daniel Walker was his landlord. He was renting from Daniel Walker who doesn't live here. He just comes and checks on the property every now and then I take care of it. 'I have no knowledge of what Daniel Walker does.' So he was trying to separate himself, but we what we found was when we did some research into Daniel Walker, how he bought the property -- he used his passport to purchase the property, Daniel Walker did. Well, we ran the passport number through homeland security. I said 'no, that's Gary Albro's passport.' So what he had done was take a copy of his passport, put the name Daniel Walker, sent that in as his I.D. to purchase the property and that was the link," said McBride.
McBride says it was then that investigators quickly learned that Albro was indeed a professional when it came to stealing personal identification information-- living off of other people's hard work for years.
"Rarely, do we actually catch the identity thief. So to catch someone like this, Mr. Albro, with all the evil that he was doing with the amount -- over 300 pieces were found on his property -- the mail, the prescriptions that were stolen from a local pharmacy, a lot of local people's names were on those prescriptions. The victims at the Zion Hill Baptist Church, now obviously people weren't named on that, it was the actual church that was the victim, but like you said a local congregation -- the significant part of this was we have shut down a major identity thief that was doing this nationwide, affecting people from across the country. That doesn't happen that often. We rarely catch them," said McBride.
McBride says perhaps the most bizarre twist in this case is the list of other things uncovered in Albro's home throughout their initial investigation.
"What we did is we started the search warrant looking for items related to the fraud, the initial fraud -- what we knew what was going on. What it branched out to was we found computer equipment, just stacks and stacks of hard drives, memory sticks, things like that. We know that people who traffic in that -- (there) might be contraband information on there such as other people's identification, child pornography, who knows what could be on that. We found violent and very graphic pornography that depicted sexual torture of women and case studies on sexual assault and homicide. I mean we're talking an entire book shelf of this type of material that really gave us concern, because why would somebody want to collect that? We found items that we thought that he might be able to carry out some of those things, stun guns, hand cuffs, gloves, just weird stuff you wouldn't think that a normal person would possess," said McBride.
Gathering these other findings just led investigators toward probable cause for other more serious crimes -- crimes that McBride says could have even involved radioactive material.
"That's why we got another search warrant to search the grounds for any evidence of homicide, sexual assault or that somebody had been tortured and killed. We found no evidence or indication that that had happened. In addition to all of that stuff, we found radioactive material. He actually alerted this to us when we served the initial search warrant. We asked him, 'is there anything dangerous in the house?' 'Yeah there's some radioactive material. It's in a lead line can up on the bookshelf in there, don't open it, it's radioactive.' Sure enough, we went and looked and there was a big yellow can that had a radiation symbol on the side and inside (there) was a substance that appeared to be radioactive. Not only that, there was a World War II German detonator equipment. It looked like mine detonators or something. They ended up being inert, but they look like collector's items obviously. But out of an abundance of caution, we contacted SAPD (San Antonio Police Department) Bomb Squad and told them what they had. They came out for that, but they also contacted the FBI and other federal agencies who came out and investigated the radiation side of it, obviously as a counter terrorism aspect just to be sure that there was nothing there," said McBride.
McBride says while their investigation led to no evidence of other crimes, filtering through it all has been quite interesting for the sheriff's office.
"We never found anything that he was actively engaged in -- in any sort of terrorist activity or wanting to construct dirty bombs or any of that stuff, but possessing the radioactive material is definitely unusual. It's a first of a kind for us because we don't run across that in this part of the state that often. So for somebody to have that, for him, it appears to just be a collector's item and infatuation. Just a kind of curiosity type deal, but the potential for criminal use -- I mean put that in a pipe bomb or car bomb or something, all of a sudden you've got a nuclear disaster on your hands. Fortunately for this case, that does not appear to be his motive," said McBride.
In the end, McBride says they uncovered no evidence to support additional charges for these other items found in the home. But while most people would classify these areas of interest as "disturbing," McBride says Albro had his own answers as to why.
"We talked with him and of course asked him about them, yeah, that was his purely artistic infatuations and he didn't have anything better to do. He didn't work. So what else are you going to do? You get to study different things," said McBride.
McBride says he is proud of the team effort that made Albro's capture possible. He says Albro has been in jail for the duration of this entire investigation -- keeping other people's personal information out of his hands. Again, McBride says this is the most unusual case of how he -- just based on the level of sophistication what was able to obtain everything he possessed through a fraudulent purchase or by defrauding a person.
"Well what he would do is he would apply for credit, under using false information. He would piece together an identity out of, say he would take (her) name, my date of birth and her social and make up a person and apply for credit. He would run up the credit card and then either say he didn't get it, it was stolen, something happened, he didn't receive it and then the credit card company would charge it off, but he still had it. But he would do this over and over again. That was one of the schemes that we came across on how we was able to afford his property. None of the property was in his name. None of the vehicles were in his name. In fact, they were all stolen. Brand new computer equipment, brand new tools, he had to pay for them because he was using other people's credit to do it," said McBride.
Albro, who was already a convicted felon for wire/bank fraud, faces a federal charge of felon in possession of a firearm for weapons found in the home at the time of their search. He is set for sentencing before a federal court next week in San Antonio.
McBride says although the sheriff's office forwarded several potential charges to the federal government such as fraudulent use of a passport and aggravated identity theft crossing state lines, felon with a firearms was no doubt probably the easiest charge for them to go with. He says after he is sentenced in the federal case, Albro will go on to face a pair of state charges. The first charge is fraudulent use of possession of identifying information over 50 pieces, a first degree felony. The second charge is theft of a non-profit, a third degree felony.
If convicted, Albro faces anywhere from five to 99 years or life in prison and or a $10,000 fine. Officials say they are expected to seize real property both in Guadalupe County and in Bandera County where he was also able to defraud people.