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Melissa Zehr (Courtesy Photo)

WATERLOO, Iowa --- A former Waterloo waitress has been sent to prison for allegedly using her customers' credit card information to make new cards.

Judge Brad Harris sentenced Melissa Marie Zehr, 29, of 1323 Lafayette St., to 15 years in prison Thursday after she pleaded guilty to first-degree theft and credit card fraud. The sentence was enhanced because of prior convictions, including earlier identity theft and credit card fraud charges from Delaware County.

Her prison time will run concurrent with a sentence handed down for similar charges in the Iowa City area.

She was arrested in December after police said she took card numbers while waiting tables, used them to make new credit cards and went shopping.

Authorities in Coralville became suspicious in November when David Armstead Jr. attempted to use a bogus card at a Dillard's department store there.

During the investigation that followed, officers determined Zehr worked at Lone Star Steak House and had waited on a man who paid with a MasterCard on Nov. 20.

She allegedly used a magnetic strip reader to record information from the MasterCard, court records state. Zehr later traveled to Chicago, where she met with others who downloaded the information and used it to make counterfeit credit cards, court records state.

As payment, she was given four or five cards to use.

Police said the cards were made by taking information --- card number, expiration date and other codes --- from the magnetic strip on victim's card and then recording it onto another magnetic strip.

The second strip was then placed on ordinary pre-paid Visa cards, and other names were embossed on the front. When the fake cards were used, the charges were put on the victim's account.

Zehr allegedly used a counterfeit card with the MasterCard information to make a purchase at Siegel's jewelry store in Cedar Rapids on Nov. 22.

When questioned by police, Zehr allegedly admitted to using the card reader on 10 to 15 customers, but investigators said at least 19 customers had complained their cards were hijacked, court records show.

Police seized a card reader she had and retrieved electronic data from it.

Armstead, 44, is awaiting trial on credit card fraud charges in Johnson County.

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Police and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Courier

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