Mobile bank bandit’s interest, troubles, both compound |

Mobile bank bandit’s interest, troubles, both compound

Cynthia Johnson allegedly used several aliases, as well as forged Capital One credit cards and fake driver's licenses to scam money from regional banks. If she's convicted, she'll spend the next 96 years in prison.
Special to the Daily |

Carnival of Convictions

Cynthia Johnson’s 40-page carnival of felony convictions stretches up and down the California coast, and back to 1996. It includes:

Oakland: Convicted for possession of a forged drivers license.

San Francisco: Convicted for receiving stolen property.

San Diego twice: Convicted for possession of a bank check or money order and burglary.

San Jose: Convicted for unarmed bank robbery.

San Mateo: Convicted for burglary.

Sacramento: Convicted for forgery.

Santa Clara twice: Convicted for burglary, for grand theft, and possessing a driver’s license to commit forgery.

She was on probation from Santa Clara County, Calif., but violated her probation less than a year after her release from Folsom Prison in June 2014. Last April, 10 months after her release from Folsom, she was arrested for cashing a bad check Alameda County, Calif.

Johnson is on felony probation in California, where probation officials say she missed a meeting and issued an arrest warrant for her. It turns out she missed the meeting because she was in the Eagle County jail.

EAGLE — When we last visited Cynthia Johnson, she faced 27 charges for running up and down I-70 through four Western Colorado counties and allegedly conning money from banks using forged credit cards and fake drivers licenses. She still does, and a possible 96-year prison sentence.

Yet she managed to compound her troubles during a hearing this week.

Her attorney, public defender Thea Reiff, asked that a psychiatrist determine whether she is mentally competent to stand trial.

That request was barely done echoing around the courtroom when Johnson told District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman she wanted to fire Reiff.

“I wish to receive different counsel,” she told Dunkelman.

Prosecutors reportedly offered Johnson 10 years in prison — instead of the 96 years she faces — for her part in taking at least $38,000 from 13 local banks between Frisco and Fruita.

Prosecutors say Johnson used at least 18 aliases during the month-long caper.

Among other issues, in some court documents she is being referred to as Jacquelyn Murray, who turns out to be one of her victims, McCollum said.

“Each time Johnson is referred to as Jacquelyn Murray, it re-victimizes Ms. Murray. I’d like the court to ask her what her name is,” said Heidi McCollum, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case.

Cohort pleads guilty

All that comes on the heels of one of Johnson’s cohorts, Vanessa Ravarre, pleading guilty to theft and criminal possession of a financial device.

She reportedly promised to cooperate in the investigation against Johnson and others, prosecutors said.

She was moved to the Summit County jail to keep her away from Johnson, who reportedly threatened to kill her when they were both in the Eagle County jail.

The caper encompassed Summit, Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties.

Two with one

About a month and a half apart, Johnson allegedly walked into two separate Alpine Bank branches and, using the same forged drivers license, tried to get cash advances.

On the afternoon of Sept. 3, she allegedly tried to use a Capital One Visa credit card to get cash from Alpine Bank in Avon. When the card was declined, a bank employee got on the phone, called the number on the back of the card and was told the card was declined because the owner had not informed them of her travel plans.

The person on the phone confirmed Johnson’s identity, and the bank did an override on the card.

She signed the withdrawal slip as Deborah Brendel, one of her many aliases, and walked out of the bank with $4,850.

Several weeks later, Capital One told Alpine Bank that the card was fictitious, and that Capital One had no records of Deborah Brendel or that account number.

According to Capital One, it’s an often-used scam. The phone number on the back of the fictitious credit goes to an accomplice posing as a credit card company employee, who then authorizes the cash advance.

On Oct. 14, Johnson walked into Alpine Bank in Frisco to get cash, using the same forged drivers license bearing Brendel’s name, and the same fictitious Capital One credit card. Alpine Bank staffers called 911, and Frisco police arrested her.

Ravarre was arrested under similar circumstances at a First Bank in Silverthorne.

Johnson does not have it or have access to any of that money, McCollum said.

Dunkelman set Johnson’s bond at $100,000 bond and refused a motion to reduce it during this week’s hearing.

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