An organized ring allegedly targeted mailboxes in southwest Miami-Dade County to steal checks and recruited Wells Fargo Bank customers in Hialeah to help them get thousands of dollars in fraudulent transactions, police said.
The scheme would not work without help from the bank’s own customers, detectives said. So far six people have been arrested, five of them Wells Fargo accountholders.
The group was headed by a 39-year old Hialeah man, who has been charged with multiple counts of grand theft and organized scheme to defraud, authorities said. In just two of the transactions, the 39-year old man managed to get $9,230 and $8,750 in checks placed in Wells Fargo bank accounts.
The fraud began when both business and personal checks were reportedly stolen from the mail in southwest Miami-Dade, police said.
The checks in hand, the accused ringleader then recruited Wells Fargo accountholders to deposit the money in ATMs, or convinced them to provide him with ATM cards and PIN numbers so he could make the deposits, according to police. That gave the alleged ring time to make a run on ATM machines before the bank caught on to the stolen checks, according to police.
One of the bank customers who was recruited told police that he made a few hundred dollars for every bad deposit.
One of the alleged victims lost over $28,000, according to police. And the accused and a female associate allegedly spent a $9,000 check on a BJ’s Warehouse shopping spree.
Grand theft is a felony but the degree of felony depends on the amount allegedly stolen. Since the total theft is between $20,000 and $100,000, this would likely be a second-degree grand theft. Second-degree grand theft is a felony punishable by 15 years in prison.
Grand theft penalties can range from diversion (Pretrial Intervention) provided the restitution amount is $5,000 or less. Also, Florida law requires alleged victim approval before an accused person can enter PTI.
For higher dollar thefts, probation or even jail/prison sentences are often imposed.
In any case involving theft, restitution - or money owed to the alleged victim(s) - is key. If a good portion of that restitution can be paid back immediately, the penalties may be lessened.
The purpose of restitution is to make the alleged victim, or victims, whole again. Since the State Attorney's Office gives great weight to the wishes of their victims (Click here to read "The Role of a Victim In a Criminal Prosecution") if the victim, or victims, are compensated, they may be more willing to approve of a probationary or even diversionary sentence.
Eric Matheny can be reached at (305) 504-6655