Feds say phony face helped man pull off $100,000 casino heist

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Harper Woods man used a prosthetic face mask and other disguises to pose as an elderly gambler while stealing more than $100,000 from people at casinos, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case against John Christopher Colletti, 55, is outlined in a 17-page criminal complaint and affidavit unsealed Thursday in federal court in Detroit. The case was unsealed after investigators arrested Colletti in Kansas, where he is being held without bond until he can be brought back to Michigan.

John Christopher Colletti's disguises included two that made him appear to be an elderly man, according to the FBI.

A lawyer for Colletti could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The investigation dates to May 2019 and alleges Colletti operated a scheme to steal victims' identities by buying their personal information online and making phony driver's licenses, an FBI special agent wrote in the affidavit.

Colletti targeted casino patrons enrolled in a VIP program that lets gamblers obtain cash advances from kiosks installed inside casinos, the investigator said.

The kiosks are monitored by closed-circuit television cameras. That's why Colletti went undercover, according to the government.

He is suspected of donning elaborate disguises, including full prosthetic face masks, hats, glasses and surgical masks while defrauding at least 10 victims out of $98,840 at the MGM Grand Detroit from April-May 2019, the FBI agent said.

Footage allegedly showed Colletti approaching MGM Grand on May 23, 2019, wearing a prosthetic mask, blue jacket, dark cap, blue jeans and sunglasses. In less than a half hour, Colletti made 15 cash withdrawals totaling $30,000 before leaving in a cab and being dropped off at Pegasus Taverna restaurant in Greektown, where he went into the restaurant's bathroom, according to the government.

"Approximately 10 minutes later, CCTV video outside of the restaurant shows Colletti exit the restaurant without the disguise, instead wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans, dark shoes and carrying a black plastic bag," the FBI agent wrote.

Investigators reviewed footage inside the casino. Each time Colletti withdrew money, he inserted a counterfeit driver's license for the victim into multiple kiosks spread across the casino, according to the government.

"Then Colletti would look at a piece of paper, likely containing the victims last four digits of the patron’s Social Security Number and the last four digits of the patron’s telephone number, which were needed to complete the transactions," the agent wrote.

The alleged scheme continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 12, Colletti was arrested for identity theft by Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribal Police at the Prairie Band Casino and Resort in Mayetta, Kansas. 

Casino surveillance showed Colletti — dressed as an elderly white man wearing a straw hat, glasses and using a mobility walker — made more than $20,000 in cash withdrawals from casino kiosks, the FBI agent wrote.

Investigators who work for the company that operates casino kiosks were familiar with the thefts from MGM Grand the year before and noticed similarities in Colletti's activities at the Kansas casino, according to the complaint.

Security officers asked him for more information because he was withdrawing so much money. 

"Colletti immediately went to the restroom, where he removed his disguise," the agent wrote. "Colletti then exited the casino with a noticeable bulge down the front of his pants, believed to be the prosthetic face mask."

Investigators found his clothes, walker, $11,000 cash and two Michigan driver's licenses in the bathroom. The licenses belonged to two victims but included altered photos showing an individual wearing the prosthetic face mask.

"The driver’s licenses also had sticky notes stuck to the back of the cards containing the victims’ social security number and telephone number, which were needed to complete the (casino) transactions," the FBI agent wrote.

Investigators found these counterfeit licenses while arresting John Christopher Colletti.

Investigators arrested Colletti and found two more counterfeit Michigan licenses in his pockets, $16,000 cash, glasses and a casino voucher, according to the government. The next morning, a K9 deputy found the elderly prosthetic face mask, believed to have been worn by Colletti, on the ground near a light pole close to the casino.

Investigators searched his rental car. Inside the Nissan Versa, investigators found four prosthetic face masks and a straw hat with a black ribbon that matched one worn by Colletti inside the MGM Grand, according to the affidavit.

The search also uncovered 83 driver's licenses, 14 insurance cards in multiple names, a counterfeit $100 bill and books on how to get away with committing crimes. A recovered flash drive contained forgery documents, background checks on various people, tutorials on how to counterfeit money and Excel spreadsheets with more than 1,000 names.

Investigators found documents detailing financial transactions at the MGM Grand casino in 2019.

"Colletti also had photos of himself trying on prosthetic masks," the agent wrote.

A receipt led investigators to a Detroit storage unit in the 1100 block of Oakman Street. Inside Unit 1091, investigators found 48 driver's licenses, hundreds of MGM Grand casino receipts and mannequin heads used to display prosthetic face masks.


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