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Daycare operator faces fraud, identity theft charges

Tracy Rankin

FARGO - The operator of a West Fargo day care center that closed abruptly last fall appeared in court Wednesday on charges of identity theft and mail fraud.

Tracy Ann Rankin, who once ran the King of the Jungle child care center, is accused of bilking five banks out of $76,183 in a scheme that involved the identity theft of two people.

Rankin pleaded not guilty to all seven counts when she made her initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Fargo.

One of more than half a dozen spectators attending the hearing was Arlen Tenold, named in the indictment as one of Rankin's two identity theft victims.

"Let's say my own personal credit was shattered, destroyed," he said after the hearing. "I almost lost my house."

Last fall, he said, Rankin used Tenold's name on credit card applications. "She took multiple credit cards out in my name and maxed them out," Tenold said.

West Fargo police said they do not believe parents whose children received care for at her center were among the identity theft victims.

"As far as we know, that's not the case," said Detective Ken Zeeb of the West Fargo Police Department.

Still, worried parents called the department. Police advise parents to watch their credit reports. "If something suspicious shows up, bring that in to us," Zeeb said.

Rankin, whose married name now is Tracy Ann Roach, was released on her personal recognizance and U.S. Magistrate Karen Klein ordered the defendant to surrender her passport.

Parents had to scramble after King of the Jungle closed in November. Inspectors earlier had issued several correction orders at the center, for deficiencies including infants found sleeping in a swing and bouncy chair.

Rankin, who now lives in an undisclosed location in Minnesota, was the subject of a number of small claims and collection cases, and filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in 2007, listing debts of $55,293 and assets of $10,995.

Her trial date was set for May 4.