By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A couple suspected of operating a high-tech counterfeiting operation and defrauding dozens of businesses - including a Havre vehicle dealership - out of thousands of dollars in several states have been arrested in Michigan, Havre police said today.
Kimberly Anne Cornelius, 24, of Oak Run, Calif., and Shane Jacob Woodcook, 26, of Redding, Calif., were arrested following a month-long crime spree that included using forged checks to purchase vehicles and pay for lodging and meals as they traveled from California to Michigan, Havre Assistant Police Chief Mike Barthel said.
The two used aliases, corporate account numbers and high-tech printing equipment to cash forged checks in Montana, Washington, Idaho and California, he said.
One forged check was used by Cornelius to defraud a Havre vehicle dealership out of more than $10,000, Barthel said.
Prosecutors in Hill County filed papers today in state District Court asking for permission to charge Cornelius with issuing a bad check by common scheme, a felony. The offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
According to the document, Cornelius used a forged check to purchase a 2003 Polaris Ranger ATV Aug. 8. The $9,900 check came under scrutiny Aug. 19 when it was returned to the dealership by the bank, which suspected it was counterfeit, Barthel said. The account number on the check was that of a payroll account for a national retail operation, he added.
Havre police and the Hill County Sheriff's Office investigated the check, Barthel said. They discovered that Woodcook used a number of aliases, Barthel said.
Police in Malta, Scobey and Plentywood are working with Barthel to investigate whether the couple used forged checks in those towns, Barthel said. They were driving a 1997 Chevrolet extended-cab pickup that the two purchased in Boise, Idaho, using another forged check, Barthel said.
Detective Wade Spain of the Boise Police Department said today that Idaho prosecutors have issued a warrant for Woodcook's arrest on a charge of grand theft by deception. The warrant was issued Wednesday, he said.
The couple used a laptop computer, a printer and a laminating machine to produce phony checks, driver's licenses, and Social Security cards, Barthel said. The forged checks were printed on authentic paper and included water marks and other security devices, Barthel said.
"It was a sophisticated operation," Barthel said. "The checks had water marks, and even their driver's licenses had holograms."
The licenses were good enough to fool a number of merchants, who accepted them along with forged checks, he said. The couple used checks issued to aliases, along with corresponding driver's licenses, Barthel said.
When merchants called to verify the accounts, they were transferred to an automated system that confirmed the accounts had sufficient funds, he said.
Barthel warned businesses to be careful when dealing with automated check systems.
"We recommend that they deal with a live person if they are uncomfortable with an automated system," he said.
Woodcook and Cornelius are being held without bond in Ontonagon County, Mich., pending charges in several states, Barthel said.
The two were arrested Monday in Ontonagon County after leading deputies and Michigan state troopers on a high-speed chase, Barthel said.
After receiving a tip from the pair's landlord, police in unmarked cars arrived at their mobile home, Barthel said. The two attempted to flee in the Chevy, he said.
The couple led police on an off-road chase until the truck's drive train broke, Ontonagon County Undersheriff Dale Raintala said today
The couple face a number of charges in Ontonagon County, he said. They have been charged with receiving and concealing stolen property, and fleeing police and eluding law enforcement in connection with the chase, he said.
Deputies found clothing and computer equipment in the mobile home, Raintala said, adding that the truck and ATV were also recovered.
Police believe the confiscated computer equipement - a laptop, a printer and a laminator - were used in the operation, Barthel said.
A judge in Ontonagon County has given other states five days to file charges, Barthel said. Montana has begun that process, he added, meaning the couple could be extradited here to face charges before they are taken to other states.
Woodcook is on parole in California for a number of offenses, Barthel said, including aggravated assault on an officer, burglary, and drug offenses. He has tattoos that indicate an affiliation with a white supremacist group, he said.