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Thief admits role in $1.5 million Hudson stolen check scheme

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Newark man today admitted his role in the widespread theft of blank checks from Jersey City, Hoboken and Bayonne residents that were turned into $1.5 million in deposits at 27 bank branches.

The 26-month scheme centered on a postal carrier who pinched boxes of blank checks that he passed on to others who converted them to cash, federal authorities said.

The six men and two women involved included Kurtis Steele, 26, who pleaded guilty this afternoon in federal court in Newark to conspiracy to commit bank fraud after being caught on surveillance tape depositing the forged checks and withdrawing money.

Federal prosecutors didn’t divulge whether Steele, as part of his plea, agreed to provide evidence and testimony against any of the others.

The defendants include Garnet Hinton, a running back and defensive back for the 2006 Union High School football team.

According to Steele, he and his co-conspirators took the checks provided by the postal carrier, endorsed them for varying amounts — all under $5,000 — and then deposited them into more than 250 legitimate accounts opened at TD Bank, Bank of America, Capital One Bank, Garden State Community Bank, Hudson City Savings Bank, PNC Bank and Valley National Bank, among others.

“Before the victims and banks discovered the checks were fraudulent, Steele and his conspirators had withdrawn the funds either via [ATM] or by entering the banks and filling out a withdrawal slip,” U.S. Attorney Paul S. Fishman said in a statement.

Reviewing bank surveillance video, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and FBI agents identified Steele as one of the crew members.

Fishman credited postal inspectors and FBI agents with making the case, handled by
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dara Aquila Govan of his Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.

U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty scheduled sentencing for May 29, 2013.

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