VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - A fraud ring that got its start by stealing checks from central Florida residents and places like the Community Food and Outreach Center in Orlando is out of business tonight, according to state investigators.
Investigators said it took agents two years to bring down the ring, but not before $500,000 was stolen across six states. Seventeen suspects are in jail.
According to authorities, Fred Siplin, who died of a heart attack in 2011, started the ring three years ago.
Printers, fake IDs and checks were tools-of-the-trade used against unsuspecting victims and the places they worked, investigators said.
"They've escaped prosecution for several years but won't escape any longer," said Danny Banks, a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Five of them were in court this Wednesday morning.
FDLE agents said the group was creating bogus checks and fake IDs to buy big-ticket items at area stores.
"Before those stores, who were victims, were able to realize the check was fake, the suspects would return the items to another store and get cash value in the form of gift cards," said Banks.
It happened hundreds of times in six states from Florida to North Carolina, agents said.
Investigators said one Home Depot surveillance video caught a suspect committing the fraud.
"Prices have to move upward because of the theft loss," said Banks. "At the end of the day, you and I are victims of this theft."
According to agents, dozens of other victim's had bank account numbers stolen from mailboxes and even charities were victims.
WFTV first reported the crime in 2010 when donors' checks to Community Food and Outreach Center in Orlando were stolen. Now the charity knows where they went.
"When you break into a charity and take checks for the poor and needy, that's about as low as it gets. It's good they're caught," said Andrea Bailey of the Community Food and Outreach Center.
Twelve of the suspects are from central Florida.
All of those arrested are being held on $45,000, and if convicted face a minimum of 10 years in prison.
The following individuals were charged with organized scheme to defraud, conspiracy to commit organized scheme to defraud, criminal use of personal identification information, conspiracy to commit criminal use of personal identification information and criminal use of fictitious or personal identification information:
- D'Angelo Keith Jones, 28, of Orlando
- James Edward Cook Jr., 33, of Orlando
- Timothy Duval, 23, of Orlando
- Christopher Michael Jones, 34, of
- Claudine Antoinette Smith-Jones, 33, of Orlando
- Brandon Sanchez Brinson, 24, of Pompano Beach
- Roger Sermon Jr., 31, of Altamonte Springs
- Gregory Wayne Lowe Jr., 26, of Sanford
- Henry Evett Allen, 37, of Orlando
- Courtney Boston Scott, 23, of Orlando
- Ralph Williams III, 34 of Bradenton
- Annette Luvern Siplin, 50, Sanford
- Paul Boyd Jr., 50, of Altamonte Springs
- Montrez D. Maye, 33, of Orlando
- Edger M. Jenning-Boswell, 30, Ocala
- Cenenia Bryant, 30, of Orlando
- Chelsy L. Beals, 22, of Edmond, Okla.