MADISON, Wis. (12/7/12)--Eight homeless men were charged with forgery in Wisconsin Tuesday for allegedly cashing forged checks at credit unions during three days in August.
"We think we've traced the leaders of the operation to Georgia," police spokesman Joel DeSpain told News Now. "They've pulled this scheme in other cities in Wisconsin and Minnesota that we are aware of. They find out where the homeless hang out in cities and target them for their operation."
But Madison police said the organizers of the scheme remain at the large and pulled same scam in several Wisconsin cities. The organizers targeted homeless men, provided them with clothes, gave them the fake checks and took most of the proceeds from them, remain at large (Wisconsin State Journal Dec. 4).
In September, two suspects described as "middle level players" in the scam by Det. Scott Sachtjen of the Madison Police Department were arrested in Brown County, Wis., near Green Bay. The suspects were found with checks in a car with Georgia license plates, but would provide no information to lead police to organizers of the scheme.
"It's frustrating," Sachtjen said. "These rings are big in the south. Now they appear to be going nationwide."
Sachjten stressed the importance of educating frontline staff to be aware of suspicious checks.
"It's so easy to counterfeit checks, and tellers are the first line of defense because they see them every day," Sachtjen said. "They are also aware of who comes into the branches."
The 16 counterfeit checks that were cashed in Madison in August were created to look like they came from Hoffman Manufacturing, a store fixture manufacturer in Madison, and were cashed at branches of Summit CU, also of Madison, according to the complaint.
The homeless men contacted by police for allegedly cashing the checks told similar stories.
Daven Pinkard, one of the homeless men, told police that two men he didn't know picked him up at a local resource center for the homeless. They told Pinkard and two other homeless men that they would be put on the payroll of a construction firm to make $200 to $400. The men said they had a check from the construction firm, which was owned by the uncle of one of the men.
The two men drove the homeless men to a retail store and bought them shirts, ties and shoes. The homeless men were then transported to an Arby's restaurant to change clothes. They were later provided a meal at McDonald's.
Pickard and the other homeless men cashed checks at two Summit CU locations. They were then asked by the leaders of the scam if they had other friends to cash checks.
Other men who were brought into the scheme told police they were picked up at a local church and at local parks.
The checks were each written for amounts between $1,500 and $4,300. The homeless men received about $300 each for cashing them.