A payroll check-forging scheme that targeted Price Chopper and netted more than $100,000 has now resulted in the arrests of more than 40 people, officials said this week.
The latest arrests came last week, with eight individuals each accused of felony possession of a forged instrument.
Forty individuals are accused of passing the forged payroll checks at local Price Choppers, serving essentially as runners in a larger payroll check-forging conspiracy. At least two others have been charged in federal court, accused of running the scheme and distributing the checks to individuals, who would then pass them.
Charged last week with at least one count of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, a felony, were: Kayla Linster, 20, of 1613 Albany St.; Peter Lunde, 53, of 345 Schenectady St.; Deborah Greco, 47, of 783 State St.; Anthony D. Johnson, 21, of 813 Grant Ave.; Rose Gibson, 64, of 602 Plymouth Ave.; Stephen Sage, 31, of 11.5 Columbia St.; Ana Osario, 30, of 11.5 Columbia St.; and Steven Sanford, 30, of Manhattan Street.
Even more arrests are expected, officials said.
The arrests have resulted from an investigation by the Schenectady Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service. Deanndra Macomber, who is prosecuting many of the local cases in Schenectady County Court, confirmed the number arrested so far.
While resulting in a glut of felony forged instrument cases, Macomber said each case is generally pretty straight forward.
“Price Chopper has a very good surveillance system, so we expect that the majority of these cases will be very strong,” Macomber said.
The latest arrests come five months after Rhakim Rashon Atkins pleaded guilty to federal charges in U.S. District Court in Albany, admitting he conspired to make counterfeit securities, an overall scheme that took as much as $120,000 from local businesses.
Atkins admitted to distributing high-quality forged payroll checks to individuals from December 2010 to July 2011. Those individuals would then cash the checks at Price Chopper stores on Altamont Avenue in Rotterdam or Eastern Parkway in Schenectady, according to federal papers. A “local corner store” was also mentioned.
Also charged federally is another man, Shardar Tisdale, also known as “Bless.” Tisdale, whose age and address were not available, was indicted in October on 18 felony counts, the top count being conspiracy. His case is pending.
Tisdale is accused of taking part in a conspiracy where he and co-conspirators obtained bank account information for at least 18 different businesses locally, then used that information to create counterfeit payroll checks. From there, the conspirators recruited individuals who had Price Chopper AdvantEdge cards. The cards allowed the holders to cash personal checks at Price Chopper stores.
Investigators have been able to use AdvantEdge card records to help track down those responsible, officials have said.
Using the bank account information from the organizations, the co-conspirators then made up the fake checks, making them out in the name of the card holder.
Tisdale’s role in the conspiracy was in directing its operations, according to the indictment. He is accused of doing so from December 2010 through September 2011.
Each check routinely was made out for $950 or less. Tisdale routinely drove the check-cashers to the supermarkets then waited for them nearby.
As payment to the check-cashers, each received between $100 and $200 from the proceeds. Tisdale took the rest, according to the indictment.
Tisdale’s remaining counts relate to each organization’s information he allegedly stole and dates those checks were used. Each organization’s information was used for no more than 10 days, according to the indictment.
A federal prosecutor indicated Friday that the scheme was difficult to crack because so many people were involved.
Tisdale is represented by attorney Kevin Luibrand. Luibrand said Friday that the case remains on course for trial.
Paperwork in Atkins’ case indicated investigators had discovered at least 70 individuals who had cashed checks by late August, taking an estimated $70,000. Subsequent investigation identified more involved and put the total taken at more than $100,000 and possibly as much as $120,000.
Atkins’ attorney declined to comment Friday. Atkins is to be sentenced later this summer to more than 2 years in federal prison.
Price Chopper spokeswoman Mona Golub declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing investigation. In March, though, Golub confirmed Price Chopper’s check fraud investigators have been working closely with the U.S. Secret Service.
Price Chopper’s closed-circuit video system, as well as its banking and store security measures, led to the individuals involved in the scheme being caught, Golub said then.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: