Investigators in Clute and Sweeny believe more than two dozen counterfeit payroll checks passed in those cities are the work of a coordinated group of people.
Sweeny Police Chief John Barnard said multiple men cashed fake payroll checks using fake identification cards at the Stewart’s Food Store in town about a month ago.
“We are still tracking down leads and there are a lot of other cities involved, including West Columbia and Clute,” he said. “Matagorda County has some of the same folks involved with this, too, and we are working closely with everybody involved.”
Clute Police Capt. Diane Turner said the counterfeit checks look like they are from the payroll at Zachry Group.
In early September, she said a clerk called Clute police stating a man had attempted to cash a check believed to be fake.
“It didn’t look right to him, so he went ahead and called the police,” Turner said. “When the officer went over there, the suspect was still standing around. He looked at the check and ID and ended up determining it was not a good check.”
After arresting Jose Quintana-Garcia, 36, of Clute on Sept. 5, officers found three checks written out for amounts from $500 to $1,400, she said.
Barnard said Sweeny investigators came to believe the suspects might be in the country illegally because of the lack of real identification. Turner shares that suspicion.
“The suspect had some ID that indicated that he was probably not from here,” she said.
Quintana-Garcia was booked Sept. 6 into Brazoria County jail on a charge of forgery financial instrument as well as fraudulent use or possession of identifying information. He was released the same day on $15,000 bond
Clute did not learn of the situation in Sweeny until days after Quintana-Garcia’s arrest, Turner said. Based on his booking photo, Barnard said police don’t believe Quintana-Garcia is one of the five suspects they are seeking.
“We still think they are all involved together in this, and it just was not one of the ones here in Sweeny,” he said. “The reason I say that is because these checks were written off the same account and were passed at other cities here in our county and Matagorda County. They may be different people, but all of them were doing the same thing. I feel like it is a quite large ring of people doing this.”
So far, Turner said she is aware of only one fake check being passed in Clute along with about 28 checks cashed in Sweeny. Neither department has had calls or reports about people trying to cash the payroll checks in a few weeks.
“A lot of guys that try to cash these checks, they try to do it after hours so they can’t contact the banks or the companies,” she said. “Our clerks are pretty on top of the fraud thing. They are pretty good about checking them because you can normally tell by the paper.”
Still, Turner said if a clerk believes a fake check is being presented, he or she should call local law enforcement.
“Some of these big jobs — these guys that makes these checks — they count on all these contractors working there, and that these clerks will cash these checks because they are busy,” she said.
As for Zachry Group, whose only involvement is its logo being on the checks, Turner said the company has been notified.
“We ended up talking to people from their security division, so they are aware about the issue,” she said.