Investigators said Florida banks were scammed out of thousands of dollars after a group cashed several counterfeit checks.
Detectives with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office started their investigation in March 2018.
“This was a very thorough investigation thanks to the relentless work of our detectives over the course of several months,” Sheriff Tom Knight said in a news release. “Let this be a message to those who think they can target our community and our businesses, that their criminal behavior is not welcome here.”
In a news release, investigators said one person provided counterfeit checks to another, who would recruit people to cash them at various banks.
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In Sarasota County, the cashed fraudulent checks added up to $131,906 from 26 transactions over six months. But officials believe the group completed 54 total transactions, stealing nearly $270,000 from banks across the state. The first documented incident, according to a probable cause affidavit, was Dec. 15, 2017, at a Sarasota County SunTrust bank.
Transactions occurred two or three times a day at banks between Brandon and Fort Myers and ranged from $4,500 to $5,300, according to the sheriff’s office.
Wilfredo Lopez, 29, of Miami, gave counterfeit checks to 22-year-old Eliener Castano-Paredes, of Wesley Chapel, according to the sheriff’s office. Castano-Paredes then recruited others to cash the checks.
Between December 2017 and May 2018, those recruits kept a percentage of the money while the rest was returned to Lopez through Castano-Paredes.
According to the affidavit, Castano-Paredes would approach people telling them about a quick way to make money by cashing checks. Once they agreed, their information would be used for the fraudulent checks. They would be coached with a cover story, be dropped off at banks and told to wait for a text message to initiate the transaction, in order to keep them from being detected.
Later, they would be picked up and give the cash to Castano-Paredes, who would then give the person their percentage.
Lopez and Castano-Paredes are each charged with one count of scheming to defraud over $50,000.
Twelve others, ranging in age from 18 to 50 years old, were arrested and charged in connection with the investigation. The charges against them include uttering a forged instrument, grand theft and criminal use of personal identification.
Additional charges are pending, according to the sheriff’s office.
The investigation is ongoing.