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Allentown pair jailed in forgery ring

Published December 05. 2017 12:30PM

A Lehigh County duo are in prison for their roles in a forgery ring in which they counterfeited thousands of dollars and then spent the fake money at stores throughout five counties, including the Walmart in Mahoning Township.

Tim Priest, 33, and co-defendant, Tabitha Ortiz, 33, both of Allentown, both face 64 counts each of felony forgery and felony criminal conspiracy to commit forgery; as well as one count each of felony criminal conspiracy to commit theft and possession of an instrument of crime.

According to an affidavit filed by Detective Bradford Jones of the Bethlehem Police Department:

At around 7:35 p.m. July 31, the Bethlehem Police Department received a call from an employee of the Walgreens at 2979 Linden St. in Bethlehem, who reported that a white man attempted to pass $100 worth of counterfeit $20 bills in an effort to purchase a prepaid debit/ATM card from Walgreens.

The employee recognized that the currency was fake and declined to complete the transaction with Priest. Walgreens security cameras captured images of Priest at the time.

At around 12:40 p.m. Aug. 1, officers from Bethlehem Police Department vice and street crime units conducted a traffic stop on a silver Kia sedan relative to a drug investigation.

The driver of the vehicle, Priest, is a known drug addict and dealer, and was also known to have a suspended driver’s license.

The owner of the vehicle, Ortiz, was the front-seat passenger.

Priest said that there was drug paraphernalia in the vehicle, and the vehicle was searched for evidence of a drug violation.

During the search, police located numerous receipts from stores relative to the purchase of prepaid gift cards/debit cards and other merchandise found on the floor boards, in the glove box, in the center console, and in Ortiz’s purse; numerous Visa gift cards located in the center console, in Priest’s wallet, and in Ortiz’s purse; counterfeit U.S. currency in a pink folder in Ortiz’s purse and in a small compartment in the dashboard wrapped around her prison ID card; and an amount of suspected methamphetamine contained in a clear sandwich bag found in the handle of a pink hair brush in the driver’s side door pocket.

Both Priest and Ortiz were taken into custody.

Priest was also in possession of seven counterfeit $20 bills, many of which featured the same serial number, as well as one authentic $20 with the same serial number.

Detectives from Bethlehem Police Department’s Vice Unit also conducted a search at The View Inn and Suites in Bethlehem Township, which had been rented by Priest and Ortiz and was occupied by Priest’s ex-wife, Elisha Priest.

Elisha Priest is also a known drug addict with a criminal history featuring numerous prior arrests for retail theft, forgery and fraud-related crimes.

Bethlehem Police Department recovered computers, printers, 30-plus sheets/bills of counterfeit matching those recovered from Tim Priest and Ortiz, as well as additional drugs and drug-related paraphernalia.

Jones contacted each store and spoke with store managers and asset protection employees.

At the time of his arrest on Aug. 1, Priest was in possession of a black iPhone. Priest consented to the search/download of his phone, and in conjunction with the consent, a search warrant was obtained for the search/download of his phone.

A review of the digital content of Priest’s phone revealed numerous photos of narcotics being weighed on digital scales, as well as a screenshot of an online posting regarding Target’s policy on confrontations over the passing of suspected counterfeit currency.

In addition, Priest’s phone contained communications between members of the ring regarding the printing of counterfeit money. There were also communications between Tim Priest and numerous other contacts regarding the sale of narcotics and the collection of money owed for drugs.

A check of Priest’s criminal history revealed multiple arrests for felony drug violations, as well as an arrest for DUI. A check of Ortiz’s criminal history revealed multiple arrests for retail theft, as well as arrests for a felony drug violation, false identification to law enforcement, forgery, and theft by deception. The forgery and theft by deception arrest is an active case out of Bucks County.

The forgery spanned stores in Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton, Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Both Priest and Ortiz are currently incarcerated in Lehigh County Prison in lieu of $250,000 bail.

They are both scheduled to have a preliminary hearing at 1 p.m. Dec. 15 before District Judge James Narlesky of Bethlehem.

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