Woman gets three and a half years for mail, ID theft

A Grants Pass woman who was one of a pair of swindlers who stole more than 400 pieces of mail from residents in Jackson and Josephine counties will spend 31/2 years in federal prison for defrauding victims.

Michelle Renee Lustig, 45, was convicted in U.S. District Court in Medford of conspiracy to commit mail theft, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, then ordered to pay $12,387 in restitution.

Senior U.S. District Judge Owen M. Panner sentenced Lustig on Monday.

Her partner in crime, Gregory Stephen Brooks, 50, of Grants Pass, was sentenced in April to nearly seven years in federal prison for his role in the pair's four-month crime spree between March and July 2013.

Together, Brooks and Lustig used personal information, checks, credit cards and other financial documents obtained through stolen mail to open credit card accounts in victims' names, and deposit stolen and fraudulent checks into victims' accounts before making purchases and cash withdrawals from the same accounts, according to an indictment against them.

Lustig also used check-making software to print counterfeit checks using the victims' information, the indictment said, and the pair withdrew cash under victims' names from various ATMs throughout Grants Pass.

Authorities recovered stolen mail inside a U-Haul truck the pair was using, discarded alongside the road near where their victims lived, inside their Grants Pass residence and inside Lustig's car when she was arrested in September 2013, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.

Some of the mail recovered from Lustig's car was stolen twice, the second time while in the process of being re-sent to rightful recipients who lived in the rural Onion Mountain area between Cave Junction and Grants Pass, the news release said.

Unlike Lustig, who has no criminal history in Southern Oregon, Brooks has an extensive criminal history involving thefts, burglaries and drug trafficking that dates back to 1981. He was out of prison just two months before he and Lustig began their crime spree.

"There have been a number of mail theft and aggravated identity thefts that we have seen lately ... and a considerable number of victims, too," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Byron Chatfield, who prosecuted the case.

"I think in each instance we've seen situations where it's been driven by methamphetamine, addiction to meth," Chatfield said. He said mail thefts are typically tied to pairs or larger groups committing the crime in coordination.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

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