Secret Service checking claims of woman posing as federal agent at Fort Mill hotel

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comAugust 23, 2013 

Laney

— After he escorted a woman claiming to be a Secret Service agent from a Fort Mill hotel last month, a York County Sheriff’s deputy unable to determine whether she was a federal employee contacted the Secret Service and learned she is a phony, officials said Friday.

The state office of the U.S. Secret Service is investigating claims Shevalo Materique Laney, 45, allegedly made when she went to the Clarion Hotel near Carowinds, introduced herself as a federal agent and took personal information from guests.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” said Robert Rolin Jr., agent in charge at the Secret Service branch in Columbia. Authorities are “trying to figure out if she did actually claim she was in the Secret Service” and “interviewing some people” as part of the investigation.

On July 25, Phyllis Graham, Clarion’s manager, reported that Carma Ariel claimed to be a Secret Service agent and took information from guests although she had been asked not to return to the hotel.

A new employee who booked Ariel into an eighth-floor room that day was unaware that she was not welcome at the hotel because of previous, similar issues, police said. Records show Laney, 45, changed her name to Ariel in 2007.

Deputies went to Laney’s room, where she told them she was a Secret Service agent with the federal Department of Justice, according to a York County Sheriff’s report.

The Secret Service is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It protects national and foreign leaders and investigates financial crimes. The federal Department of Justice is the nation’s chief investigative, public safety and law enforcement agency.

Laney told deputies her supervisor was “General Abernathy,” but she could not give them his contact information. She showed deputies an ID card, but “the quality was questionable at best,” the report states.

She did have a car, police said, where she kept several black uniforms with no identification on them except the word “Agent” printed above the front left pocket, the report states.

Laney told police she was unable to discuss why she was in the area, and that she was never issued a badge. She became upset that the manager called police and told deputies that her cover was blown. She packed her bags, was placed on a trespass notice and left the hotel on foot, officials said.

Laney, who wore a black windbreaker with the word “Agent” emblazoned on the front, was not arrested or charged that day with impersonating a law enforcement officer because the deputy responding could not confirm her employment with the government, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Trent Faris told The Herald this month.

“The real issue is she presented him with some ID,” Sheriff’s Office Capt. Allen Brandon said on Friday. “She is so convincing. She’s been doing this for quite some time.”

The deputy wrote in the report that the Department of Justice seal was “blurred as if printed on a low-quality printer.”

Brandon said the deputy worked to mitigate the situation at the hotel so he could then check her identity with the government and make an arrest, if necessary. He made several phone calls but could not reach anyone to verify her identity.

“We asked her simply for her credentials, that’s what she produced,” he said. When Laney left the hotel, “we started working with the Secret Service right after that.”

Deputies learned that Laney is not a federal government employee and issued warrants charging her with impersonating a law enforcement officer, trespassing and giving false information.

Those warrants are still active, Brandon said, although a few days after the incident, authorities in Mecklenburg County took her into custody and sent her off for a psychiatric evaluation.

Records show that Laney was not booked into the Mecklenburg County Detention Center this year. But a police spokeswoman this week said if Laney had been taken to a mental institution, she likely would not have been booked into the jail.

Glen Kessler of the Secret Service office in Charlotte said he would be unable to comment if Laney was in a North Carolina hospital because that would violate medical privacy laws.

Once their investigation is complete, Rolin said Secret Service agents would present the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to see if they’ll prosecute. He was unsure when that might happen.

‘Scared to death’

Graham, 54, has managed the Clarion Hotel for nearly five years. She’s called deputies to keep drunks, prostitutes and drug dealers off the premises.

Her trust for police, she said, is gone. She wanted Laney arrested in July if police could not prove her status as a federal employee.

“Am I scared now? Yes, yes I’m scared,” she said. “I can’t stand to even go near the hotel.”

“Everyone’s credentials are different,” Brandon said. “There’s no one set pattern of credentials,” making it difficult for police to determine which set of credentials might be fake.

The sheriff’s office does not have a set protocol on what deputies should do if they encounter false credentials, Brandon said. He was unaware of any other state police departments with those policies.

Graham first saw Laney’s badge when the woman checked into the Fort Mill hotel with a child in April and received two adjoining rooms at a discounted rate because a night auditor thought she was a federal agent.

Laney had earlier introduced herself as an FBI agent to guests who became nervous after someone pulled the fire alarm, Graham said. The next morning, Laney said she was investigating Graham because of issues with other guests.

“She is very professional,” Graham said about Laney’s demeanor. “She carries herself very well.”

Laney pulled out a black, leather case with a badge inside of it when Graham asked for identification. Graham said she quickly grabbed the badge because it looked fake. She saw the words “Security” written on it.

“My grandson has play badges and they look real,” she said.

She told Laney to leave the hotel and not return. Hotel employees entered Laney, then using the name “Carma Ariel,” into a system that flags for unwanted guests.

Three months later, Laney returned at night and used another badge to check in. She roamed the halls before she took personal information from two guests who Graham learned had been drinking while underage.

Graham called police after one of the guests told her the next morning she was unsure if they should have given Laney any information. They also told Graham they allowed Laney inside their room. The guests refused to speak with deputies. After speaking with Laney for about 20 minutes, a deputy grabbed a dolly and helped her wheel her valuables outside. She walked away, but it’s unclear what happened to the car.

“He said, ‘I can’t say she is or she isn’t’ ” an agent, Graham said. “I just looked at him. There’s no telling what she told him. I hoped she would go out in handcuffs.”

A day after Laney was told not to return to the hotel, Graham told deputies that Laney called her five times claiming to be an FBI agent.

Last week, Graham called deputies again, saying someone called her at home but did not speak. Instead, the caller “just breathed heavily,” a police report states.

Graham told deputies she believes it might be connected with Ariel, but she was not sure, the report states. She said the Secret Service told her Ariel was being kept in a mental institution.

Still, she feels “scared to death,” adding that she only tried to help her guests but thinks she’s now a target.

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