Mask mischief

A Michigan man who was evidently a pro-masker even before COVID-19 hit used a face mask to steal over $100,000 from Michigan and Kansas casino patrons - that's a LOT of welcome bonus casino cash!

According to authorities, John Colletti wore a prosthetic mask to disguise himself as an elderly man when he visited casinos in Kansas and Michigan. Then, using information that he was able to obtain on the Internet along with counterfeit driver’s licenses, Colletti withdrew money from casino patrons’ personal bank accounts at the casinos’ self-service kiosks.

Colletti was identified and arrested in Kansas where he continued his criminal spree. A criminal complaint was issued against him in Michigan Federal Court. Authorities and casinos around the world are now examining his mode of operation in order to ensure that it not be replicated.


The scams took place at kiosks which are located at intervals around the casino floor. In order to withdraw funds from a personal account, a user inserts the last four digits of his/her phone number and submits his/her Social Security number along with a photocopy of their driver’s license. The kiosks are operated by Global Payments Gaming Services and are used throughout the casino industry for jackpot processing, cash advances, ticket exchanges, cash withdrawals and bill-breaking.  

In Colletti’s scam, each of the victims had already registered so their profile was listed in the Global Payments' "VIP Preferred Program." Their profile linked to their bank account. Global Payments spokeswoman Emily Edmonds said that as soon as they identified the fraudulent activity they alerted law enforcement. “Throughout the investigation, we provided support and cooperation that ultimately led to the apprehension of this suspect," she said. 

Yet Colletti was able to leave Michigan with his ill-gotten gains and ply the scam in Kansas before authorities caught him, a breach that worries casino security around the world.


The investigation began when, between April 26 and May 27, 2019,  Detroit’s MGM Grand Casino security personnel identified at least a dozen victims of identity theft. According to the complaint which was filed in Michigan Federal Court, the combined loss totaled almost $100,000.  The Michigan State Police opened an investigation and, using surveillance video, identifed a person who was wearing a full prosthetic face mask that made him resemble an elderly White man.

The suspect was able to escape Michigan but nearly a year later, Colletti was arrested by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribal Police who suspected him of identity theft. Prairie Band Casino and Resort employees had observed the man withdraw approximately $20,000 from the kiosks at the Mayetta, Kansas casino.

The surveillance was able to see that the suspect was disguised as an elderly man. He wore a straw hat and glasses and used a mobility walker. When casino security requested that the man provide his social security number after he withdrew such a large amount of cash, Colletti asked to use the restroom where removed his disguise and exited the casino. Police searched the restroom where they found clothes, 2 Michigan driver’s licenses, a Nissan car key, a mobility walker and approximately $11,000 in cash,

The driver’s licenses had sticky notes with the owners’ telephone numbers and Social Security numbers – methods that were needed to facilitate kiosk transactions. Colletti was arrested by tribal police who searched Colletti's rental car and found flash drives, prosthetic face masks, kiosk receipts, identification cards and books on “how to get away with committing crime."

The tribal police contacted the FBI who went on to recover 83 driver's licenses, 19 player cards from various casinos, 14 insurance cards in different names, a social security card issued under an alias and Binghamton University staff ID cards.

According to the indictment, the flash drives contained "background checks on various individuals, tutorials and manuals on how to counterfeit money and commit various other financial crimes, videos of GPKs inside the MGM Grand Casino Detroit, handwritten signatures, and excel spreadsheets with over one thousand names."

On the spreadsheets, investigators found Social Security numbers, each person's date of birth, Social Security numbers, monthly salary information and bank routing and account numbers. Investigators were able to pinpoint similarities that existed between transactions at the tribal casino and the identity theft investigation in Michigan. When contacted, the Michigan investigators confirmed that Colletti's photo matched that of the unidentified male who had been identified in the MGM Grand Casino identity theft investigation.

Colletti faces charges of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and fraud and related activity in connection with access devices, according to the complaint. Currently in the custody of US Marshals in Kansas, he is awaiting a detention hearing, according to court documents filed in Kansas.

A spokesman for the US Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Michigan declined to comment further, though noted that they have requested that Colletti be transferred to face the charges in Michigan. Colletti’s attorney, set to represent his client in  pretrial proceedings in Topeka, Kansas, has not yet commented.

Casino Security

Colletti deserves points for ingenuity but casino security has become quite sophisticated and it’s rare for a cheater to get away with anything. Colletti probably was able to keep going for as long as he did because he was scamming other players, not the casino.

Casinos mostly protect their interests with high-tech security.  That means that there are security cameras located every few feet throughout the casino floor and security personnel who do nothing but monitor those cameras at all times.

Facial recognition technology is having an increasingly large impact on the casino industry, with good results. The facial recognition technology allows the casinos to identify players who have cheated in the past – at their casino or at other casinos. Many of the casinos share their data with each other.

Casino security focuses on a possible cheat when they start to make a lot of money. There are actually not a lot of people monitoring the cameras at any one time but if a table loses a good deal of money within a short amount of time, the video footage is there to be reviewed so the casino security people can identify what happened. Then, if they need to take action, they will.  So even if they don’t see the scam as it’s happening, they can deal with the issue later, while keeping their actual security expenses down.

Card counters get a lot of publicity but casinos generally know who they are. What’s interesting is that the casinos will often let a card counter continue playing if the card counter isn’t a good card counter! Meaning, if s/he’s not winning, the casino is OK with letting him/her continue to count cards.

Sometimes, a player wins a lot of money by just being lucky. When that happens, instead of pushing him out the door, the casino will try to lure him back in. Because the casino knows that the odds are that, eventually, the odds will turn in the casino’s favor and the casino can make back everything that it lost and more.


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