A hospital employee here sent her son text messages with the personal information of dying patients in a scheme to obtain credit cards in the patients' names once those patients died, authorities said.

"This is about as low as you can stoop for a dollar," Sheriff Jack Strain said.

Rebecca Stockdale and her son Robert Ezell were arrested earlier this month and booked on 124 counts of identity theft and other charges, including obtaining a credit card by fraud and stealing business records. Ezell's wife, Charlotte Cooper-Ezell, was accused of helping fill out fraudulent credit card applications and booked on identity theft counts.

The three were being held at the parish jail in Covington. It was not immediately clear whether they had attorneys.

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Authorities said they did not publicize the case until they realized its magnitude.

Stockdale and her son are accused of stealing the identities of more than 100 dead people and obtaining at least 17 credit cards fraudulently, sheriff's deputies said. Ezell used the cards to make at least 23 purchases at local businesses, detectives said, but the declined to say what was purchased.

Strain said Stockdale, an emergency room clerk, allegedly sent her son text messages with names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of patients who were near death or had recently died. Ezell then used that information to submit credit card applications in the dead patients' names, using addresses of hurricane-damaged, unoccupied homes near his house in Slidell, authorities said.

Ezell also browsed newspaper obituaries and gave names to Stockdale, who searched the hospital database for personal information on the dead, Strain said.

A spokesman for Slidell Memorial hospital, Sam Caruso Jr., said Stockdale worked for the hospital for 12 years and that hospital officials were shocked by the allegations against her. She has since been fired, he said.

"This is an extremely serious breach of patient confidentiality and a breach of all the training we give our employees on how to handle sensitive information," he said.

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