Charges mount for former Windstream employee

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Charges are mounting for a former Windstream employee accused of fraud as Rowan investigators continue to speak with victims of an online identity theft spree.
Walter Darnell Austin was charged in late January with felony identity theft after deputies said he stole hundreds of old files from a Windstream retail store in Kannapolis.
The records were paper documents believed to be from the mid- to late 1990s, before Windstream acquired CT Communications. Residents of Rowan and Cabarrus counties were victimized in the fraud.
According to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, Austin was charged with an additional count of felony identity theft on Monday, bringing his total felony charges to 10.
Austin is accused of using the stolen customer information to buy items online, deputies said, and had the packages delivered to vacant houses around Rowan and Cabarrus counties.
Deputies, along with the China Grove Police Department, staked out a home on Millbridge Road in January. They arrested Austin as he pulled up in a Windstream van and collected the delivered items. The packages were not in his name.
Authorities said the 45-year-old Mt. Pleasant man worked for CT Communications prior to the buyout and was a network technician with Windstream before his arrest.
When detectives searched Austin’s Kannapolis office, deputies said, they found cycling gear, endurance drinks and cases of nutrition bars.
He was given a written promise to appear in court on Monday. He was released last month after posting a $71,000 bond.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.