Muskingum County Prosecutor
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, July 10, 2023
Theft ring organizer pleads guilty to felony crimes
Days after a jury convicted Juliana Washington of 41 counts related to a regional theft conspiracy, co-defendant and lead conspirator Keith Taylor pleaded guilty to his part Monday in common pleas court.
Among many theft and identity fraud charges, Taylor pleaded guilty to one first-degree felony count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and one second-degree felony count of felonious assault, both carrying firearm specifications.
Taylor, better known by his alias “Turk,” organized a series of smash and grabs from cars parked at local fitness facilities.
The acts caught the attention of law enforcement in late January when women at a local yoga studio reported to the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office that their cars were broken into and purses were stolen. Those purses contained identification cards, credit cards and checkbooks.
Minutes later, deputies were called to a gymnastics gym for an additional report of a vehicle break-in.
Around the same time of those incidents, the Zanesville Police Department and Perry County Sheriff’s Office also took similar reports of smash and grabs in the parking lots of fitness businesses.
Investigators learned of further thefts from vehicles throughout the state, specifically in West Chester and Twinsburg.
Taylor and Washington next took advantage of at-risk women by forcing them to drive rental cars with fake plates to banks where they were instructed to impersonate one theft victim while cashing a fraudulent check from another victim.
When one of those women refused to complete the transaction, Taylor brutally assaulted the woman. At one point, Taylor held a gun to the woman’s head and threatened to kill her. He hit her with the gun and continued punching the woman as she called out to Washington for help, but Washington stood by idly as the woman lost consciousness. When the woman woke up, both Taylor and Washington were gone.
The conspirators used others to cash checks at several banks throughout the state, but made their ultimate mistake in Zanesville when attempting to cash a stolen check at The Community Bank with a former employee as the victim. Employees did not recognize the woman trying to cash the check, so they called 911 instead of authorizing the transaction.
A deputy patrolling the area near the I-70 west ramp on West Pike spotted the suspect vehicle as it entered the interstate. The driver fled from the deputy at speeds exceeding 115 miles per hour. The car came to a rest after weaving through traffic, striking a semi-truck and crashing into the median.
The driver, identified as Malissa Young, was injured in the crash and treated at Genesis. Young quickly confessed to her part in the scheme.
Taylor and Washington followed Young to the bank when she went to cash the check, and made sure she was on the phone with them as she made the transaction.
After the failed attempt at The Community Bank in Zanesville, Taylor remained on the phone with Young as she was followed by law enforcement.
Young explained that she wanted to pull over for the deputy, but Taylor and Washington told her to take off when the deputy approached her car.
Detective Sergeant Brady Hittle of the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office obtained historical cell tower records belonging to the suspects’ phone numbers to trace each vehicle theft and each cash checking stop.
The advanced detective work displayed by Hittle and strong prosecution by Assistant Prosecutor Molly Martin allowed for first-degree felony charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity to be filed against three of the four conspirators involved.
This was not Taylor’s first time participating in a theft ring. In 2012, a Florida Sheriff’s Office identified Young as a member of a criminal group called “Felony Lane,” which similarly targeted cars parked at gyms, schools and daycare centers.
In 2013, Taylor’s fingerprints were traced to cashed checks stolen from 10 vehicles in Florida. Taylor was also linked to several other vehicle break-ins in another part of Florida and in North Carolina.
At sentencing, Taylor faces 32-and-a-half years in prison.
Young previously pleaded guilty to one first–degree felony count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
Anthony Webb, who played a minor role in the conspiracy, pleaded guilty to one fourth-degree felony count of grand theft of a motor vehicle and one fourth-degree felony count of identity fraud.
Washington, who chose to try her case before a jury, faces a maximum prison sentence of 57 years when she is sentenced.
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