Two Chicago men accused of mail theft, fraud in Northeast Wisconsin
NORTHEAST WISCONSIN, Wis. (WBAY) - Two Chicago men are accused of stealing checks and attempting to cash them across Wisconsin. They were arrested in Manitowoc County.
Beginning in December of 2022, the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office received numerous complaints of theft of mail, specifically from the industrial park in the Village of Greenville. The sheriff’s office said the suspects were targeting businesses and stealing incoming and outgoing checks from the mailboxes, mainly during the overnight hours on the weekends. The total amount of stolen checks from the industrial park in the Village of Greenville alone surpassed $500,000.
The sheriff’s office said the stolen checks were later altered, duplicated and fraudulently cashed into various bank accounts throughout the U.S. The stolen checks were either cashed or attempted to be cashed via online mobile deposit or at ATMs, authorities said.
The sheriff’s office learned that similar cases of fraud were happening throughout the Fox Valley and Northeast Wisconsin, all of which appear to be related.
A Green Bay business was also affected - the Instrumental Music Company. Here, eleven checks were stolen, all from school districts from around the state.
“As a consumer, you kind of trust the system that you pay with a check and it’s going to get to the place that it needs to go to and as a business you assume that your mail’s going to come to you when it’s supposed to,” said Kevin Baker, office manager at the Instrumental Music Company.
The business was lucky, it is recovering the money.
“The school districts were all contacted and they have started to resubmit their payments to us so fortunately the money is still coming in,” Baker explained.
In order to prevent this from happening again, the business is trying to help its clients switch to electronic payments.
“It’s a slow process to convert over to electronic payment but something we encourage and something we ourselves like to do when we pay our own bills,” Baker stated. He added: “We kind of take for granted, you know, that you put the mail in the mail box and it’s going to be fine because it’s protected but you know it’s not locked or anything so I guess what’s to stop somebody from that.”
On February 5, the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office conducted a traffic stop on I-43. The two people inside the vehicle were identified as Derrell J. Edwards and Dionta Bratcher, both from Chicago. In a subsequent search of their vehicle, officers found 61 stolen checks totaling over $121,000. The checks were confirmed stolen, primarily from businesses within Brown County. Bratcher and Edwards were arrested and confined at the Manitowoc County Jail.
Bratcher and Edwards face additional charges in several adjacent jurisdictions. It appears Bratcher and Edwards are associated with similar incidents throughout the State of Wisconsin and Illinois, the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Wednesday. Both are scheduled to appear in court next on April 13, 2023.
The Green Bay Police Department and Brown County Sheriff’s Office collaborated with all jurisdictions and forwarded charges on Edwards and Bratcher.
The sheriff’s office called this a multi-jurisdictional investigation and additional charges will be forthcoming. Investigators believe there are several additional suspects associated with this investigation and they are still at large.
Law enforcement agencies are strongly encouraging businesses to take the following steps to protect themselves from being victims of mail theft:
· Take checks directly to a USPS collection locations
· Sign up for Informed Delivery through USPS
· Request for mail NOT to be delivered on weekends (This can be done directly with your mail carrier according to the USPS)
· Install a USPS approved lockable mailbox
· Install CCTV systems to deter criminal activity
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