A 48-year-old man allegedly posed as a Merced pastor and used the organization’s tax identification number to obtain cellphones, which he then resold overseas, the Merced Police Department reported Thursday.
Shane Keith West was arrested early Thursday at his home on West Bullard Avenue in Clovis on suspicion of identity theft, theft by false pretenses and commercial burglary, the Police Department said in a news release.
Police said West, posing as a pastor from the Christian Life Center in Merced, opened several cellphone accounts and obtained several phones at Verizon stores throughout the Central Valley, including Selma, Kerman and Kingsburg. Police said he used fictitious checks and attempted to open a fraudulent account at a Verizon store in Fresno.
“West has absolutely no affiliation with Christian Life Center in Merced,” officers said in the statement.
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Police said West has a history of going to cellphone stores, posing as a pastor, and purchasing cellphones and cellphone plans using the tax identification numbers that he obtained from various churches.
“Evidently, West had already done the same thing in San Bernardino County some time ago and investigators there were familiar with him,” police said.
Police said the cellphones West obtained had never been activated in the United States and said the phones were sold in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where cellphones sell for a much higher price.
West remained in custody Thursday afternoon at the Merced County jail on $185,000 bail, according to booking records.
Anyone with information on this crime is asked to contact the Merced Police Department Detectives Division at (209) 385-4702 or the tipline at (209) 385-4725. Tips also can be texted to TIP411, using “comvip” as the first word in the text message.