Cops bust fake check scam

May 29, 2008 4:27:30 PM PDT
Authorities say they have busted a fake check scheme so elaborate that it bilked banks out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in five states. More than a dozen people were arrested.

Eyewitness News reporter Anthony Johnson has more.

Investigator say the woman highlighted in a bank video is a fugitive. She is a suspect in a massive check-cashing scheme, which dipped into bank accounts using fake checks that looked like real company paychecks.

"Once they get it, and they then scan it into the computer, then they would change the payee name," Somerset prosectuor Wayne Forrest said.

It appears to be a case where reality copies art. The scheme imitates the illegal activities of Frank Abagnale, who was played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie "Catch Me If You Can," where company checks, routing and account numbers were copied, but false names were placed on IDs and credit cards.

"This was a sophisticated effort by a team that was clearly devoted to robbing the banks without a gun," assistant prosecutor Matthew Murphy said.

Police say the mastermind of the organization was Eric Eugene Criss. Another member of the organization allegedly stole personal information on 2,700 Verizon customers when he worked as a tele-marketer for the company. The whereabouts of that information is being investigated.

The criminal organization reportedly ran out of several locations in Elizabeth, where the fake checks were produced for nearly three dozen companies and municipalities, including a private high school, the city of Hackensack, a custom alloy company, the city of Linden Municipal Court and the county of Union.

The banks, located in five states, were bilked for more than $600,000.

"We believe that the 407 counts that we have in this indictment may only be the tip of the iceberg," Forrest said. "As each day goes by, it's expanding."

The criminal enterprise reportedly got the checks from employees of the companies they ripped off. Police say they paid the employees $100 for the check, then turned around and counterfeited them.