Phoney Baloney

60 Minutes closes the book on the legacy of jailhouse phone-scam artist Danny Faries. You don't say!

Danny Faries, a winsome con man with a snaggletooth grin, ran one of the biggest telephone credit card scams in American history from a cramped cell in the Dade County Jail. During four years of incarceration in Miami, the 42-year-old convicted murderer used pilfered credit card numbers to illegally buy and sell at least $2.3 million in mail-order goods and services through toll-free telephone lines.

Faries's jailhouse shopping network hornswoggled people in every state of the union, employed dozens of accomplices to scour hotel trash bins for more credit card receipts, and allegedly involved numerous jail guards. Faries says Dade corrections officers helped him set up drop sites for stolen merchandise, accepted a variety of stolen goods as personal gifts, and allowed the master thief to retain phone privileges even after his sophisticated criminal enterprise became the subject of probes by Metro-Dade police and the U.S. Secret Service.

Today Faries resides at the Martin Correctional Institution near Indiantown, Florida, where he says he has been frustrated in attempts to ply his trade. Before leaving Miami, he was profiled in a 1990 New Times cover story and a 1991 Tropic magazine article in the Miami Herald. The author of both stories, Pete Collins, is working on a book about the talkative con man. The last newsworthy word about Danny Faries seemed to be spoken by veteran CBS reporter Mike Wallace. After visiting Miami in June and describing Faries's exploits in a September 29 60 Minutes segment, Wallace told millions of viewers that "Dade County jail officials say they now have new procedures for inmate phones. After we went down there to report this story, those inside-jail-cell telephones were removed."

Not quite, Mike.
Corrections officials concede that all but a handful of the approximately 6000 inmates they oversee still have telephones in their cells. They say they never told CBS News that the phones had been removed, and can't imagine how Wallace got that idea. And, citing Florida adminstrative codes and a federal lawsuit brought by prisoners in the late Seventies, they say it would violate the rights of inmates to deny them "reasonable access" to telephones.

On the other hand, Metro-Dade police detectives, who have been deviled in the recent past by inmates emulating Danny Faries, praise corrections administrators for cracking down since 60 Minutes came to town. "They've changed a whole lot over there in the last four or five months, and I'd have to say that 60 Minutes helped spur them on," says Sgt. Ted Tate, of Metro's Economic Crimes Bureau. "We had one guy over there awaiting trial on credit-card-fraud charges. For a time he was able to continue his fraud, but after we spoke to them about this problem, they seemed to get it straightened out. If they're going to stick with it, it'll be more than sufficient."

One change in the Metro Corrections and Rehabilitation Department is Jerry Meece, the new chief of Internal Management. Since his promotion in January, Meece has arranged to place blocks on all inmate telephones that will prohibit prisoners from calling toll-free 800 numbers, as well as commercial 900 and 976 lines. Meece, with his six-man team, has stepped up cell shakedowns and aggressively pursued Faries' disciples. He will not say whether he has conducted credit-card-fraud investigations of correctional officers. (Lawrence, the departmental director, says he "is not aware of any." Lawrence also says Danny Faries's shenanigans had nothing to do with his decision to replace former chief Ann Vendrell with Meece ten months ago.) Phone fraud, Meece claims, "has decreased tremendously. But again, these people are very creative."

Fourteen inmates suspected of "phone abuse" have been placed in individual cells without telephones, says Meece. They still get to make phone calls - but guards dial the number for them. "It's very manpower intensive," Meece notes with a sigh. Lawrence and Meece say they are considering a plan to restrict inmate telephones still further. At the department's Metro West Detention Center, now under renovation and expansion, prisoners will soon be able to direct-dial only a small group of numbers, such as the Dade state attorney's and public defender's offices, preprogrammed by administrators. All other calls will require the party on the other end to accept charges. "Hopefully, if I call a flower shop, they wouldn't accept a collect call from me," Meece says, thinking like an inmate.

New Times tried for three hours to talk to residents of the tenth floor of Dade's Pre-Trial Detention Center via Danny Faries's old phone number (545-4494), hoping to ask whether credit card fraud has in fact died out within the jail. The line was busy.

 
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