Archive for Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Hot checks surface after postal theft

January 3, 2001

Theft of mail last month from a McLouth utility company's post office box has led to more theft.

Up to 200 checks could have been taken from the mailbox of the Leavenworth Jefferson Electric Cooperative. Officials have determined that some checks were washed and then rewritten to other people for larger amounts. In addition, account numbers on some checks were used with withdraw funds from those accounts.

On Dec. 8, H. Lee Zimmerman, Lawrence, mailed his monthly utility payment on his Lake Dabinawa house to the cooperative. His check, drawn on Firstar Bank, Lawrence, was for $40.93.

"On December 29, I received from Firstar my canceled checks," Zimmerman said. "And in my canceled checks was that check, but it was no longer for the amount of $40.93. It was now for the amount of $212.63, and it was signed by me, but it was nothing that even resembled my signature."

The altered check was made payable to Wal-Mart. Further, the check, which originally had been green, had a bluish tint, and the watermarks were smudged.

Zimmerman said he thought the check had been washed.

"I think they used a solution that will remove all the ball-point ink," Zimmerman said. "It removed every speck of what I had written on the check when I made it out, but all of the printing on the blank printed check was still there."

David Nitz, a U.S. postal inspector, said information from checks stolen from the cooperative's post office box also has been used to withdraw funds from bank accounts.

A bogus payroll check would be written to the account, but the person making the deposit would ask for cash back.

"They would deposit the check in the account, but keep part of the cash," Nitz said. "These will pass through a bank easier than a two-party check, without having to show as much identification."

Nitz received word last week from the Topeka Police Department that this had occurred at several Topeka banks. He did not know how much money was involved, or who was responsible.

"We don't have a suspect identified on these yet," he said. "We've got someone who we believe is in the area that we've looked for in the past."

Nitz said that this week he would review videotapes from the Topeka banks "so we can look to see if it's the same person that we already have a warrant for."

Nitz said a similar incident happened in the area.

"We had something similar to this in Eudora and it was also associated with some things that happened in Lawrence, all in December," Nitz said.

In a Dec. 29 press release, Joe Heinen, member services manager for the McLouth electric cooperative, said that up to 200 checks may have been stolen. The mail was taken from the post office box on Dec. 9 or 10.

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