The use of prosthetic face masks, fitted to look real, is a plot device right out of "Mission: Impossible."
But ultimately, John Christopher Colletti's mission failed.
The 56-year-old Harper Woods man, who wore realistic face masks as a disguise in his $100,000-plus casino scam, pleaded guilty Tuesday to wire and identity fraud in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Sentencing is July 7.
Authorities say that from April 26, 2019 to March 12, 2020, Colletti wore the masks as he withdrew thousands of dollars from kiosks in casinos in at least two states, including Michigan's MGM Grand in Detroit. The masks are often made from latex or silicone.
According to an affidavit by FBI agent Julia MacBeth, Colletti targeted VIP Preferred Program gamblers by purchasing their personal information -- driver's license numbers, last four digits of Social Security numbers -- online. He then created fake licenses with victims' names to use in the kiosks to withdraw money. The machines, which provide cash to gamblers and other financial services, are operated by Global Payments Gaming Services, and victims were VIPs registered in the system.
Local authorities became suspicious two years ago. MGM Grand investigators discovered at least 10 victims of identity theft at the Detroit casino in April and May 2019, totaling $98,840 in losses.
They notified the Michigan State Police Gaming Section, which established a suspect -- Colletti -- by reviewing security footage, the FBI affidavit said. In each instance, he wore a full prosthetic mask of an elderly man and sometimes added hats, glasses or surgical masks.
On May 23, 2019, the FBI affidavit says, Colletti was seen walking up to the MGM Grand wearing a prosthetic mask, jacket, visor cap, jeans and sunglasses on top of the cap, carrying a messenger-type bag.
Quick change at Pegasus
Inside the casino, he made 15 fraudulent cash transactions at kiosks, withdrawing $30,000. After that, video shows him taking a cab to Greektown, where he entered a restroom in the rear of the popular Pegasus Taverna Restaurant on Monroe Street, according to the FBI.
About 10 minutes later, video shows him exiting the restaurant without the disguise, carrying a black plastic bag. He got in another cab and left the area.
Authorities first got the opportunity to confront Colletti in Mayetta, Kansas on March 12, 2020, where he had made more than $20,000 in cash withdrawls from kiosks in the Prairie Band Casino.
Casino security asked Colletti to go to the cashier’s cage because he had withdrawn over $20,000 and his Social Security number was needed for reporting purposes. Colletti instead went to the restroom and removed his disguise, then exited the casino with a noticeable bulge in the front of his pants, believed to be the mask, the affidavit said.
In the restroom, security found clothes, a walker, a Nissan car key, $11,000 in cash and two fake driver’s licenses in the names of Michigan residents. The photos had been altered and had sticky notes affixed with victims’ Social Security and telephone numbers, required for kiosk transactions.
More cash and phony licenses
Police caught up with Colletti and arrested him for identity theft. They searched him and found two more fake Michigan driver’s licenses and $16,000 in cash.
The following morning, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribal Police Office found a prosthetic mask outdoors, near the casino. Inside his car, they found four such masks.
Authorities contacted two victims whose names were on Michigan licenses in the Kansas bathroom and casino. A review of transactions showed that while in Kansas, Colletti withdrew $26,000 from one of the victim's accounts and $500 from another -- without their knowledge.
A search warrant in Kansas executed on Colletti's car found more physical evidence. Besides the four masks, they also found a hat, matching one worn by Colletti at the MGM Grand and captured on security video.
They also found phones, flash drives, computer tablets, a counterfeit $100 bill, books on how to get away with committing a crime, surgical masks, playing cards from different casinos, 83 driver’s licenses, 14 insurance cards in multiple names, and other documents.
As part of his plea agreement he has to repay the kiosk company $125,740.
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