Four Providence residents have been arrested on Tuesday for allegedly stealing $1.6 million in US Treasury checks, according to the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island. The four people, including two Providence post office employees, are facing charges of conspiracy to steal federal checks directly out of the mail.
The preliminary investigation assessed that the two post office workers managed to get their hands on at least 900 federal tax refund checks totaling $1.6 million. Joan Manuel Mustafa, 36, and Erick Vera Garzon, 35, managed to cash in some of the checks, as the police found $33,250 in cash upon home searches and another $100,000 in a safe deposit box.
Mustafa and Garzon converted dozens of other checks into gift cards, as the investigators discovered. However, there were other people helping them to sell the stolen checks on the streets of Providence and New York for about 20 percent of their real value, which ranged between a few thousand dollars to over $11,000.
According to the police, Brenda Canuelas, 39 and Secundino Tirado, 45, also known as Jesus Rivera, were in charge of distribution. They have both been charged with bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and forging endorsements on Treasury checks.
The four people found other methods of profiting from their theft. One of the more sophisticated approaches involved depositing the checks in bank accounts that were opened with the information they stole from their rightful owners beforehand.
The joint investigation conducted by the Rhode Island Postal Service Office and the Providence Police Organized Crime and Intelligence Unit found out that Mustafa and Garzon were able to steal the checks while sorting through mail. The two worked as night shift clerks for the Corliss Street post office, and were able to get their hands on reimbursements checks bound for their home state Rhode Island, as well as for Massachusetts.
The investigators were prompted to look into the matter after an unusually large number of Treasury checks supposed to reach in those two states never got to their destination. In one case, for instance, a Charlestown government employee complained he never received a $10,450 federal retirement disbursement.
The four suspects are currently free on bail and awaiting trial.
Investigators started tracking who was responsible for depositing the checks and spending the money. Brenda Canuelas was the first of the four people involved that the police started suspecting, as she was the only person seen both at the bank and withdrawing money from the ATMs. More video surveillance footage led to the identification of the other three.
Image Source: turnto10