What investigators call a sophisticated counterfeit check cashing ring hit banks and business in Valdosta, Tifton, and Albany Wednesday. An alert teller finally stopped them.
Now Investigators across South Georgia are trying to find the ring leaders.
The counterfeiting ring used homeless men from Valdosta to cash their phony checks across South Georgia until one of them was arrested at an East Albany bank. A teller who spotted one of the phony checks, alerted an off duty Dougherty County Sheriff's Deputy, working security at the bank, who nabbed him.
34 year old Steven Smith was arrested at the Heritage Bank in East Albany about 3 Wednesday afternoon, trying to cash this counterfeit check for more than 19 hundred dollars. Smith told Investigators he and three other homeless men were hired at the Salvation Army soup kitchen by the ring.
Dougherty County Sheriff's Investigator Craig Dodd said "Offered money to go cash these checks. They started out in Valdosta, and went to Tifton from there on 75. Then came over to Albany."
Smith told Investigators that two men, one called "dirty red" and the other called "Freddy" drove them to banks and check cashing businesses in a gray four door Pontiac Grand Am with a Georgia educator tag. The men were printing checks from local businesses on a computer printer while they traveled.
Dodd said "They already had basically cased the locations. They already had logos and everything from the locations they were going to."
Two women driving a tan colored Toyota Corolla stood by as lookouts. At the East Albany Heritage Bank, a man named Freddy Collins cashed a check for more than 18 hundred dollars, but the teller spotted it as counterfeit after it was cashed. As bank officials discussed it, Smith walked in and tried to cash an almost identical check. Tellers had a deputy in the bank arrest him, which led to the discovery of the ring's operations. Similar checks had already been cashed at Heritage's downtown branch.
Dodd said "They can knock out 40-to 50 thousand dollars a day doing this."
The homeless men were told to drop the cash and pick up more checks at the trash can behind the Taco Bell across East Oglethorpe. One of the women was watching from the Burger King. Investigators say the ring was using walkie talkie phones for communication.
Investigators say they are not sure how many businesses and banks were hit by the ring Wednesday. They use homeless men, willing to use their real name and ID's to cash the checks, not realizing they will take the fall, while the counterfeiters disappear with the cash. Smith told Investigators he would be paid 50 bucks for cashing the phony checks.
Dougherty County Sheriff's Investigators are working with investigators in Valdosta and Tifton.
They want businesses that may have cashed the checks yesterday, or anyone with information, to contact them.
Call Dougherty County Sheriff's Investigators at 431-3222.
Copyright 2011 WALB. All rights reserved. Feedback
More WALB News10 HeadlinesMore News HeadlinesMore>>