Tempe Police arrested 105 people who were part of a fraud scheme crime organization during the past 18 months, police said Tuesday morning.
Suspects arrested range in age from 18 to 73 and were reportedly involved in what detectives have identified as five check fraud mills operating in Tempe and the metro area, according to a press release from the Tempe Police Department.
Operation “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself” is the largest fraud case ever investigated by the Tempe Police Department and the largest ever prosecuted by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, in terms of the number of suspects arrested and indicted, according to the release.
Suspects face multiple felony charges for participating in fraud schemes to cash fraudulent checks at various retail businesses, including Food City, Target and Wal-Mart, police said.
Chief of Police Tom Ryff credited teamwork between multiple agencies for the success of the investigation.
“Working with some of our agencies, for example U.S. Postal inspectors, Mesa Police Department, loss prevention specifically from Target, Wal-Mart and Bashas’ and also with members of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, we were able to dismantle this very sophisticated crime organization and bring many of the individuals to justice,” he said.
Detectives estimate the crime spree value at more than $240,000 in attempted and completed fraud transactions, according to the release.
The reasons behind the crime spree were drug use, including heroin and methamphetamine and gambling, Ryff said.
“Drugs and gambling are having a significant impact on our community,” he said.
Cmdr. Kim Hale, a detective with the Tempe Police Department, said the investigation started in March 2012.
“We talked a lot about the corporate victims involved, but this is not just a case about corporate victims,” he said. “This is a case about our neighborhoods, about the cities themselves being impacted by these predators.”
The organization was intricate and had many moving parts, Hale said.
“The way this works is you’ll have a printer who is basically the head of the organization, and he will have people who work for him, a recruiter who will go out and find people and they will go out and get the checks themselves or the information off the checks and those people are the compromisers,” he said. “They will break into mailboxes or cars and get the checks. They are opportunistic thieves going throughout the city and will give checks to runners who will cash the checks with their identity or a fraudulent identity.”
All the suspects needed was information off of the checks to complete the fraud, Hale said.
Most of the main suspects have been arrested and more than 100 years of Department of Correction time has been given in pleas.
The printing mills would use Fargo machines to print false credit cards and identifications, Hale said.
“At this point, we have arrested most of our major players,” Hale said. “There will be more suspects in the future.”
Andrew Pacheco, division chief counsel with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, said the cases involving the 105 individuals are ongoing in regards to prosecution.
“This is a fine example of the good work that can be done when federal and state law enforcement officers work together to show these fraudsters that Arizona is not a safe place to do business,” he said.
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