Married Upper Dublin business owners face jail for identity theft scheme
NORRISTOWN >> A husband and wife who operated an Upper Dublin heating and air conditioning business are headed to jail together after they fraudulently used the identities of people from Montgomery, Chester and Bucks counties to open credit accounts with a financial institution.
Philadelphia residents Eric Lamont Martin, 34, and Portia D. Martin, 31, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court to multiple counts of identity theft, theft by deception and conspiracy to commit thefts in connection with incidents that occurred in 2015.
Eric Martin, who is listed in court documents as president of Centra-spike Inc., a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company located in the Fort Washington section of Upper Dublin, was sentenced to 11 ½ to 23 months in the county jail, to be followed by eight years of probation and 500 hours of community service, in connection with the thefts.
Portia Martin, who according to court papers is listed as vice-president of Centra-spike, was sentenced to six to 23 months in the county jail, to be followed by eight years’ probation and 300 hours of community service.
The Martins, who are eligible for the jail’s work release program during their incarceration, also must share in the payment of $116,000 that remains in restitution to be paid to Synchrony Financial of Ohio. Detectives identified Synchrony Bank as a financial services company that allows individuals to finance home improvement projects completed by companies.
The punishments were imposed by Judge Thomas C. Branca.
“The bottom line is he admitted to obtaining individuals’ personal information for the purposes of obtaining credit from a financial institution,” defense lawyer Andrew Laird said on Eric Martin’s behalf, explaining the nature of the guilty plea.
Laird argued for a sentence of house arrest or at least a sentence that included a work release provision.
“Obviously, my client is remorseful and accepts full responsibility for what took place. We asked that he be able to continue to either work his HVAC business or other gainful employment for the purposes of paying back the restitution to Synchrony Bank,” Laird said.
The theft totaled about $124,000, according to authorities. The eight identity theft victims were primarily elderly and they resided in Hatboro, East Norriton, Upper Dublin and Abington in Montgomery County; in Chester Springs, Chester County; and in Warminster, Bucks County.
“She acknowledged taking the personal information off of medical records from a medical practice where she was working,” defense lawyer Martin P. Mullaney explained on behalf of Portia Martin. “She’s been remorseful since day one. In a moment of weakness she went ahead and did this. She recognizes that she hurt people. She is genuinely remorseful.”
Mullaney argued Portia Martin got involved in the scheme through her husband and that “he led her into that episode of criminality.”
Detectives alleged the Martins used the eight victims’ personal information to fraudulently obtain credit from the bank. The investigation revealed the eight credit accounts opened by Centra-spike were fraudulent and Centra-spike used the identities and personal information of unknowing victims to open credit accounts and charge the accounts for services not performed, according to the arrest affidavit.
The funds borrowed were initially deposited into Centra-spike’s account. However, the investigation revealed that some of the funds later were transferred from the business account to personal accounts held by the Martins, according to court papers.
The investigation began in March 2015, when an Upper Dublin man contacted township police to report he was the victim of identity theft. The victim told detectives he received correspondence from Synchrony Bank regarding a credit account that was opened in his name without his authorization, according to the criminal complaint filed by Upper Dublin Detective Michael W. Gommer.
Working with bank officials, detectives eventually developed the Martins as suspects in the fraud scheme. Detectives did not theorize on the couple’s motive in the criminal complaint.
However, Laird explained, “My client’s business expanded rapidly and it was his intent to obtain some money from the bank with the intent of repaying that money back in a very short period of time. Unfortunately, his plan did not go as it was laid out and there were some individuals that were affected throughout the process.”