Rhakim “Jezzy” Atkins avoided additional jail time for the check-forging scheme he helped perpetrate against Price Chopper, but now owes tens of thousands of dollars in restitution to the grocer.
U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe gave the 24-year-old Schenectady man credit for serving 317 days in prison and handed him a term of three years post-release supervision at his sentencing in Albany last week. But he also ordered Atkins to repay the Golub Corporation $61,294 as part of his punishment for doing the scam with at least one other individual.
The prison component was less than the two-year sentence federal prosecutors had initially sought. But the restitution he was ordered to pay is more than four times the amount his public defender claims he helped to steal from the Golub Corporation, Price Chopper’s Schenectady-based parent corporation.
Atkins remains in prison on a parole violation, according to attorneys in the case. He served six months in prison on a reckless endangerment charge out of Schenectady County.
Defense Attorney Lisa Peebles argued that Atkins should only repay $15,200, since he only played a role in cashing 16 bogus checks. She said co-defendant Shadar “Bless” Tisdale — a childhood friend of Atkins — was the true mastermind of the scheme that ultimately bilked upward of $100,000 from the company.
Peebles claimed Atkins played no role in manufacturing the counterfeit checks and did not cash any of them because he lacked proper identification. She said he also never provided Tisdale with any checks to duplicate and later cut ties with his friend after discovering he might be involved with guns and drugs.
“He did not play a critical role in the ongoing existence of the conspiracy,” she stated in a sentencing memorandum. “The conspiracy existed before and continued after his participation.”
Atkins admitted that he helped enlist individuals turn forged payroll checks into cash between December 2010 and July 2011. He said he helped distribute the high-quality checks so that others could cash them at Price Chopper locations on Altamont Avenue in Rotterdam and Eastern Parkway in Schenectady using their identification and AdvantEdge card.
Most of the bogus checks were for $950 and Atkins sometimes drove the people cashing them to the stores. In return for their service, Atkins sometimes paid the person cashing the check around $200, according to court documents.
Golub’s fraud investigator first brought evidence of the scheme to the U.S. Secret Service in April 2011. He was initially probing a forged payroll check from a McDonald’s located in Brunswick that was cashed at one of the supermarkets.
The discovery tipped the Golub investigator off to broader pattern. His probe identified roughly 70 people who had cashed one or more phony paychecks.
Price Chopper’s closed-circuit video system and its banking security measures led to the arrests. Federal investigators began interviewing some of the individuals cashing the checks and were eventually led to Atkins.
A criminal complaint was filed against him in late August 2011 and he later waived his right to have the case presented to a grand jury. Tisdale, 22, was then indicted on 18 counts of conspiracy in October 2011 and is awaiting trial.
Both prosecutors and Tisdale’s attorneys reached a continuance in the case last week to finalized the details of a plea agreement. He is being held without bail.
In Atkins’ case, Peebles claimed her client merely enlisted his friends to cash the checks and they typically made more money on the deal than he did. She said Atkins earned between $50 to $100 per check.
“Mr. Atkins has a girlfriend of nine years. Together they recently had a son who is now a healthy 1 year old,” she stated in court documents. “Unfortunately, in an attempt to earn a little extra money for his child, he has placed himself in custody for the better part of the last 11 months.”