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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, July 9, 2004


Check theft linked to California ring

Losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars

Express Staff Writer

Acting on a hunch gleaned from an Associated Press news story last week, Ketchum Police investigator Lee Edgerton linked a series of local check fraud incidents in the Wood River Valley to a California check theft ring.

Individuals who allegedly stole and forged paychecks in Ketchum, Bellevue and in Blaine County shared tactics with members of what is believed to be a larger Los Angeles, Calif., ring, Edgerton said.

Police last week arrested five men and one woman in Coeur D’Alene who had tried to cash forged payroll checks, Edgerton said.

The six, charged with grand theft and forgery, were identified as Josephina Prado Garcia, 41; Dany Leal Lopez, 21; Felipe deJesus Hernandez-Ramirez, 29; Jose Guadalupe Flores, 24; Adolfo Ernesto Triminio, 37, and Francisco Javier Armendariz, 43, all from California.

Edgerton said Ketchum police have been investigating check theft since May 16 when 42 checks from two construction companies totaling some $42,000 were cashed at banks in Ketchum and Boise with the Bank of America suffering the heaviest losses.

The Bellevue Marshal’s office, Boise police and the Blaine County Sheriff’s office are also looking into the Coeur D’ Alene theft in connection to similar cases in Bellevue and in the county, said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling.

"We’re coordinating on this," Femling said. He said Wood River Valley police are trying to identify whether the people who were arrested in Coeur D’ Alene are the same people or if they are part of bigger ring that seems to be connected to similar cases throughout the West.

"They could be the same. They used the same (modus operandi) as to what happened here."

"These guys have been everywhere," Edgerton said.

Authorities believe check theft in Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, California, Washington and Oklahoma could be linked to the Idaho crimes.

Edgerton said that after comparing notes with Detective Shardell Ellis of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s office, responsible for arresting alleged forgers in Coeur D’ Alene, one pattern that tipped her off was that all the forged checks were written for just under $1,000.

"It was the exact same thing," she said. "I’m 100 percent convinced we’re talking about the same people here."

Ellis said that because of the Coeur D’ Alene arrest her office has become the central gathering point for information in the case.

Edgerton said that people with fake Oregon driver’s licenses used Hispanic names to forge checks and that the thefts have mainly been from construction related businesses.

In northern Idaho false California driver’s licenses were used, Edgerton said.

"Business owners don’t realize checks have been stolen (immediately) because they are typically taken from the middle or bottom of a checkbook," Ellis said. "From what I’ve see so far all of the names used have been Hispanic."

Edgerton said business owners robbed in Ketchum did not recognize any of the names as their own employees.

Edgerton said police also believe that once forged checks are cashed, the money is sent back to members of a Vietnamese gang that has recruited the alleged forgers.

Edgerton said she has sent reports about the Ketchum cases to Ellis and she expects the FBI to be involved in the investigation that could involve losses of millions of dollars throughout the country.

"I still haven’t added it all up," Ellis said. "Of all the agencies and banks that have reported to me, at least $500,000 has been stolen. I expect there are many, many more forged checks. Employers should keep things locked up. Be mindful of checking."


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