Elaborate check fraud operation shut down

FITZGERALD (WALB) – An elaborate fraudulent check cashing operation was shut down in Fitzgerald.

Investigators say the suspects printed fake checks with real bank routing numbers and real account numbers they stole.

They bought tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise, some of which they sold on the streets.

The suspects were so bold, even a south Georgia sheriff fell victim to the fraudsters.

At Fitzgerald Police headquarters, the evidence seized in the bust looks more like department store inventory: Cameras, flat screen TV's, I-Phones, high end purses, even children's clothing.

"They would steal the account numbers and routing numbers. Instead of printing them up on the bank they should go to, they would put another bank on there in place of it," said Det. Sgt. James Tilley.

At the center of this fraud investigation is 36-year-old Katrina Wright and 26-year-old William Clowers.

Investigators say the numbers from real checks passed at businesses would be sent to Wright. She would then use software on 4 laptops to alter the information to print checks that passed as the real deal, watermark and all.

"Using those systems they were able to go into business all over and the checks would pass saying they were good checks. But the bank would reject them because they didn't have those accounts," said Tilley.

One of the many victims of this scheme was the sheriff of Irwin County. His department got involved along with Fitzgerald Police.

They say the printing operation ran out of a public housing apartment at Fitzgerald's Roanoke Homes. Officers raided Wright's apartment last week and seized the merchandise and the tools used to buy it.

"You had folks living in government housing, receiving assistance. who were in possession of a 60 inch flat screen TV, had a stainless steel refrigerator next to their bedside," said Tilley.

Like a mini E-bay, police say Wright was running a store-like operation from her apartment - selling off the goods bought from big box stores from Tallahassee to Waycross and Macon to Albany.

"Places like Walmart, Sams Club, Office Depot, Target. If the communities had those businesses, that's what they would target," said Tilley.

It's estimated the suspected fraudsters bilked banks and businesses out of more $100,000 since 2009. Officers also recovered fake ID's and out of state license plates.

The U.S. Secret Service is now involved in the case. Irwin Co. Sheriff's Investigators and FPD detectives believe other law enforcement agencies may be able to connect this identity fraud ring to cases in their jurisdictions.

Wright is in the Ben Hill County Jail on numerous counts of identity fraud and a firearms charge.

Clowers is in the Irwin County Jail on 10 counts of identity fraud.

If you know of a person or a business who may have been targeted by this scheme,call Fitzgerald Police at 229-426-5014, Detective Tilley at 424-4005, or the Irwin County Sheriffs Office.

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