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Oakley woman gets 10-year sentence for fraud schemes

Defense attorney Richard Scott talks to his client Denise Michelle Hankins, during a hearing at the Superior Court of Sonoma County in October 2012.

(BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 4:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 4:21 p.m.

Denise Hankins didn't steal much compared with other Sonoma County fraud cases. Losses have been estimated at less than $100,000.

But she claimed a large number of victims. Police identified more than 60 individuals, businesses and banks that were affected by her schemes, which involved using stolen identification to set up phony checking accounts.

The Oakley woman, whose criminal history spans two decades, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in county jail under a plea bargain with prosecutors. She bowed her head slightly as Judge Robert LaForge handed down the punishment.

"It's clear that wherever you go, you leave a path of destruction," LaForge said.

The exact extent of her crime isn't easy to determine.

Hankins, 42, had a briefcase filled with stolen IDs, counterfeit checks, forged documents and stolen mail when she was arrested at a Rohnert Park hotel in September. Prosecutor Amy Ariyoshi told the judge it would take two weeks, working eight-hour days, to phone each victim.

"I've never had this many people affected by one person's conduct," Ariyoshi said at her sentencing.

A group of them, including employees from Graton's Lynmar Estate winery, where Hankins claimed to work, were in court Wednesday. They declined to talk after the hearing but appeared to get some solace from the outcome.

Hankins, who served time in federal prison for mail and identity theft, also declined to say anything before she was led away by deputies. She'll serve about five years in jail before she becomes eligible for release.

Sheriff's detectives began investigating Hankins in August when she posed as a Petaluma woman to open an account at Citibank in downtown Santa Rosa. Although the woman had ID and checks, the banker was suspicious and put a hold on the account.

His suspicions were confirmed when he called the Petaluma resident, who said she did not open the account. He also called employees at Lynmar, who told him Hankins didn't work there.

It was unclear why she targeted the winery.

Surveillance images initially were no help to detectives, who did not recognize Hankins. Then they got a call from a Calistoga police sergeant who linked Hankins to a credit card stolen from a city employee.

The tip opened up further links to Hankins, whom detectives believe stole a box of checks from the Petaluma woman's mailbox.

Investigators also uncovered stolen and forged documents at her residence in Oakley, near Antioch.

They tracked Hankins to Rohnert Park through a rental car. Among other things, she was suspected of trying to open accounts on two consecutive days at a Rohnert Park credit union with various stolen identities.

Hankins was on probation in Alameda County for a forgery conviction. Her lawyer, Richard Scott, said drug addiction and mental problems fueled her "uncontrollable impulse" to commit the crimes.

LaForge agreed, expressing concern that she would return to the lifestyle when she gets out of jail.

"At this time, you will remain in custody for an extended period of time," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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