6 suspects unaccounted for after nearly $40K stolen in Eau Claire "Homeless" check fraud case

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Seven men face felony charges after police say homeless men were recruited to cash fake checks from Eau Claire businesses.

Nearly $40,000 were stolen by first stealing checks and then making copies to cash. Charges against the suspects were filed this week, but only one of them has been located.

Accessible mailboxes, check replication technology, and men persuaded by the promise of quick cash led to 16 felony charges in Eau Claire County.

Police said it all starts with an organized crime group in Atlanta, Georgia that takes checks from businesses' mailboxes and makes blank copies. They recruit homeless people, asking them to cash a check, getting a small cut in return. It's called “Operation Homeless,” something postal inspectors have dealt with for several years.

According to court records, three businesses in Eau Claire were targeted in Nov. 2012.

Spickler Recycling had one payroll check unaccounted for.

“They must have stole that and got the numbers off of it,” Victor Spickler said.

From that, eleven fake checks were written out to apparently homeless men, for more than $32,000.

“When they faxed this over and we seen the check and we called them right back and said hey, this is a fake check,” Spickler said.

“The first thing we did was contact our lawyer to find out who was liable. Then we went to the bank and the bank was responsible because they did the check cashing.”

Schneider Siding on London Road was also victimized. Its owner Mark Prissel said no checks were taken, but some were left out on a door for employees, that may have been taken and returned without anyone noticing. Four fake checks from them were written totally nearly $7,000.

Lydia's Lighting Furniture and Gift Gallery on North Hastings Way was another target, but luckily, their bank caught on, and didn't cash a fake check with their name on it for nearly $3,000.

“That totally amazed me because I had to look at the check several times because it looked so close to our checks. Same stock, it was a little different in color, but other than that, you couldn't tell the difference,” owner Scott Barr said.

“We got through it but it was kind of miserable. And I hope the guys enjoy some time in jail for doing this to us,” Spickler said.

Sixteen checks were cashed, totaling $38,951.06, and with six of the seven men charged on the loose, the businesses said the banks are taking the loss for now.

Rosell Ghalson of Decatur, Georgia is suspected of making the fake checks because his fingerprint on a check matched one of his on a criminal database. The other suspects are Brandon Dennis of Fort Madison, Iowa, Christopher Harrell, Caldwell Waguk and Dennis Katka of St. Paul, Minnesota, Brandon Urbin of South Bend, Indiana and Letroy Walker of Chicago, Illinois.

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