The frightened cries of a 6-year-old boy left home alone with his infant sister launched an investigation of apparent credit card fraud involving at least tens of thousands of dollars, Buffalo police say.
So far, Monique L. McDaniel of Rounds Avenue has been charged with just a single count of criminal possession of a forged instrument. When she was arrested after last week's "home alone" incident, a credit card bearing a different name was among her possessions surrendered at Central Booking.
The name on the credit card was a combination of the names of a relative and an acquaintance of McDaniel's, police said. Two large boxes of receipts and other paperwork, including suspected forged documents used in applying for credit cards, were seized when police executed a search warrant at the house days later.
"We never would have found out if she didn't leave her kids alone," said Lt. John King of the Northeast District. "We would have had no cause to be in contact with her."
But her son's cries out a window led police to the squalid apartment, which officers said had no food or clean clothing for the children. Their initial job, King said, was to determine: "Who . . . are we looking for?"
Paperwork in the apartment presented several names. Then after McDaniel returned home that night and was taken downtown to be booked, there was the credit card in another name.
According to the lieutenant, McDaniel and a downstairs neighbor were out on a shopping spree with a credit card that McDaniel got in the mail that day.
The women used the card in tandem, police said, and two groups of purchases, totaling almost $1,000, were made minutes apart at a discount store, according to copies of receipts viewed by a reporter for The Buffalo News.
Almost all of those purchases -- with the exception of a bag of cheese snacks -- were seized by police, King said.
A preliminary hearing was held Monday for McDaniel, 24, on the initial charges that also included endangering the welfare of a child, petit larceny and unlawful possession of marijuana.
After McDaniel's arrest, the two children were removed from her custody by Erie County Child Protective Services.
After appearing in court with several adult relatives, McDaniel declined to comment. She remains free without bail.
City Court Judge Shirley Troutman granted an adjournment requested by prosecutors and scheduled another session for Feb. 17.
McDaniel's attorney, Alan D. Goldstein, stressed the police allegations are incorrect.
"I just think that the facts as they appear are not going to be the fact of the true story," he said.
The fraud investigation has been turned over to the Erie County District Attorney's office.
"And that, I believe, is going to be time-consuming," said the police lieutenant.
Among the paperwork seized was a list identifying which three-digit Social Security prefixes are assigned to each state; a copy was viewed by a reporter for The News.
There was a credit card bill from last November listing more than $10,000 in charges and demanding payment, King said. Another bill on the same account, issued a month later, contained an additional $8,000 in charges.
Police obtained evidence that several other accounts were opened -- under names including McDaniel's late mother -- then "maxed-out" before the issuing company canceled them.
There is also evidence that McDaniel sold some of the goods, King said, getting rid of expensive items for a fraction of their value in cash or bartering for services.
"I just don't see how she ever would have been caught," King said. "She had it down to a science, except she left her kids alone and they screamed for help."
News Staff Reporter Matt Gryta contributed to this report.