A fraud investigation that began in December when a package bound from Nigeria to Schenectady was intercepted has now expanded, according to documents filed in federal court.
The package bound for Schenectady— which was filled with bogus cashier’s checks — ultimately led investigators to New York City and New Jersey, with three people arrested there. They are accused of distributing fake cashier’s checks and using stolen credit card information from at least 25 people.
Two of those arrested allegedly would make fraudulent purchases online, and then sell the items at flea markets in northern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. In at least two of those fraudulent purchases, the scammers had the shipments sent to another address in Schenectady, court documents allege.
The documents also indicate a connection between two of those arrested and an email address linked to a “West African financial fraud syndicate,” which is implicated in a scheme to distribute fake postal money orders and cashier’s checks.
The latest arrests were two people from Fort Lee, N.J., Brigette Velasquez and Anthony Velasquez. Each face federal counts of conspiracy to commit access device fraud and conspiracy to commit aggravated identity theft.
Filings indicate both have been released on bond. Attorneys for each could not be reached Wednesday.
Charged earlier in the case was Larry Crews of the Bronx. He faces a federal count of conspiracy to possess fake cashier’s checks. Crews is identified in documents as Brigette Velasquez’s father. No one with a Capital Region address has been charged.
The alleged scheme began to unravel in early December with a package addressed to a home on Moyston Street in Schenectady. Customs officers found cashier’s checks inside the package. Agents quickly deemed the checks counterfeit based on routing numbers, packaging and previous cases. There was also a lack of security features on the checks.
In all, 358 cashier’s checks were in the package, each with a face value of $4,950 — amounting to more than $1.7 million, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Albany.
Earlier paperwork did not indicate what investigators believe the fake checks were being used for, but the new paperwork identified correspondence between an email address linked to the New Jersey defendants and an email address linked to the West African syndicate.
The email from the syndicate included 97 names and addresses of individuals. Investigators contacted three of those individuals, who each told investigators they received fake postal money orders and immediately knew it was some type of scam and destroyed them.
One of the men told investigators he was instructed to use a check or money order to purchase another money order and hold it until he received further instructions.
Authorities raided the Velasquez home in December, uncovering credit card information for 25 people.
Investigators also uncovered multiple fraudulent purchases. Investigators contacted four of the individuals whose credit cards had been used — including a woman with a business address in Troy — and each said their credit cards had been compromised. The other three were from North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Missouri.