Rohnert Park teen accused of fraud postpones plea (w/video)

Halaweh was scheduled Friday to enter a plea to eight charges related to the fraudulent car rental. Those charges included auto theft, possession of a stolen vehicle, three counts of identity theft and three counts of credit card theft. But his attorney, William Du Bois, agreed to postpone the plea until prosecutors have time to file additional charges.

Two of the three new complaints under consideration relate to the fraudulent rental of luxury vacation homes in Sonoma County, one in December and another in June, Jamar said. Sheriff's detectives have said they believe Halaweh rented the mansions with stolen credit information, then threw large, raucous parties there. The third complaint Jamar anticipates filing relates to credit card and identity theft in at least three North Bay counties. The Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, a multi-county agency, has been investigating.

Sheriff's Property Crimes Sgt. Mike Raasch described Halaweh, who was attending Santa Rosa Junior College, as "very tech-savvy." He said detectives believe Halaweh obtained stolen identity and credit card information through at least two online methods: first, purchasing legitimate, stolen credit card numbers from an illegal website that provides them for a fee, and second, through an online contact who detectives have not been able to identify.

Sheriff's detectives began investigating Halaweh last winter after they were called to a party at a Sonoma-area mansion. At the time, they arrested Halaweh on a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a case for which he's due back in court June 18. Not long after, detectives began investigating whether Halaweh used a stolen credit card to rent the mansion.

Since then, they have confiscated two cellphones and three computers belonging to Halaweh, Raasch said.

Jamar said, "We're talking about very sophisticated computer, credit fraud and counterfeiting."

Halaweh, with trim dark hair and a close-cut beard, appeared serious as he sat quietly in court Friday and at one point waved to his father. His father, who Halaweh's lawyer described as a hard-working man and recent immigrant who was very upset about the circumstances, did not comment on his son's case.

Du Bois said outside the courtroom that his client took responsibility for his actions. "He's been frank to admit the charges," he said, referring to a Wednesday in-jail interview in which Halaweh told KTVU, "I'm ready to do my time."

Du Bois has advised Halaweh not to give additional interviews to the press. But, he said, "He's acknowledged his responsibility and accepts the fact he's going to be punished."

Du Bois attributed his client's actions to youthful indiscretion combined with the ease of online theft in the digital age. "This entire case is a product of youth digital life," he said. "Although this is being made a huge issue, it's just a giant theft case, a real modern, high-tech case."

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