PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Police have charged four suspects in a conspiracy to steal U.S. Treasury checks from the mail and sell them or deposit them in fraudulent bank accounts.
Investigators seized approximately $1.6 million worth of U.S. Treasury checks, more than $165,000 in proceeds from allegedly selling stolen checks and other items believed to be stolen from the mail while executing search warrants at the homes of Joan Manuel Mustafa and Erick Vera Garzon back in April, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha.
Local and federal authorities began investigating last September after a significant number of Treasury checks meant for Rhode Island and Massachusetts residents were reported missing.
Police said Mustafa and Garzon worked the night shift together at the U.S. Mail Processing and Distribution Center in Providence, and allegedly took the checks while the mail was being sorted.
Detectives believe Garzon was selling many of the stolen checks on the street at 20% face value to buyers both locally and in New York.
According to police, a court-authorized search of Garzon’s home and vehicle resulted in the discovery of more than 900 U.S. Treasury checks valued at approximately $1.6 million, $33,250 in cash and dozens of gift cards.
Police also seized $19,650 in cash and assorted Visa gift cards from Mustafa’s home. The following day, police searched a safe deposit box opened by Garzon to find an additional $113,100.
Mustafa, 36, and Garzon, 35, both of Providence, were arrested on charges of embezzlement, conspiracy, theft of public money and theft of mail.
Investigators also found bank accounts were being opened in the names of people whose checks were stolen, then the checks were deposited in those accounts in amounts ranging in the thousands. Those funds were then withdrawn from ATMs or through purchases with debit cards.
Investigators began reviewing surveillance footage from banks and retail stores to figure out who was making those transactions. Police said this led to the identification of two more suspects – Brenda Canuelas and Secundino Velazquez Tirado, aka Jesus Rivera.
“We were doing our investigation separately, and the Postal Service inspectors were doing an investigation separately, and then when we came together, now the puzzle started to fit,” said Providence Police Major David Lapatin.
Tirado, 45, and Canuelas, 39, both of Providence, were arrested Tuesday on charges of aggravated identity theft, bank fraud, theft of government money in excess of $1,000, forging endorsements on treasury checks in excess of $1,000, theft of mail, and conspiracy.
All four suspects were arraigned Tuesday and released on unsecured bonds.
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