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| Crime |

Teresa Porter's gang of identity thieves had secret formula: Jewelry shops + Pawn shops = $

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Identity theft is great for collecting stuff. But what's the best way to convert it to cash?

Teresa Porter and her four helpers, who needed to cover daily living expenses and a meth habit, figured out an efficient formula involving jewelry stores and pawn shops.

According to Jefferson County District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Pam Russell, investigators believe Porter, 44, and her minions -- Michael West, 47, Robin Newberry, 45, Wendy Montano, 46, and Pamela Rowe, 48 -- collected most of their information by getting between the U.S. Postal Service and its customers. "We found boxes and boxes of mail that wasn't theirs," Russell says.

Once they'd obtained the personal and financial information they needed from people and businesses, they forged checks, deposited the fictitious funds at a bank, then emptied the accounts. But they also used the info to open credit accounts at jewelry stores -- operations presumably chosen because they specialize in expensive goods that are highly portable and easy to unload.

After they purchased fancy baubles, they headed to pawn shops and hocked them for whatever they could finagle -- and they finagled a lot. Cops estimate that they collected more than $100,000 between October 2009 and August 2010.

Not that jewelers such as Zales, Helzberg and Jared's were the only victims. In total, the group fleeced nineteen people, 35 businesses and, demonstrating an extra touch of classlessness, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

As the ringleader, Porter took the heaviest hit punishment-wise. She pleaded guilty to all 82 criminal counts against her, including racketeering, and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Newberry earned two years for identity theft, Montano got three years probation for the same crime, and Rowe received six months in jail for misdemeanor forgery. As for West, Porter's significant other, he was rewarded for his loyalty to her with eight years behind bars.

Which makes him something more than a pawn in Porter's game.

Look below to see mug shots of everyone other than Rowe.

More from our News archive: "Colorado's No. 1 in fraud complaints: Greeley, Boulder, Fort Collins & CO Springs in top 15."

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