Counterfeit-check cashing scheme steals $140,000

A counterfeit check cashing scheme that included more than 70 people, eight of whom are criminally charged, resulted in a $140,000 theft, Pierce County prosecutors allege.

Prosecutors say Earnest Debose Jr., 39, was the mastermind who created the checks and recruited people to cash them at businesses in Pierce, King, Thurston and Kitsap counties.

Debose, a felon, is charged with leading organized crime, first-degree theft, unlawful possession of payment instruments and unlawful possession of a firearm. He is to be arraigned Oct. 6.

Also charged are Joy Herman, Justin Weiland, Kyle Evans, Janine Hernandez, Christopher Lunday, James Hopson and Relonna Ward.

The investigation started in November 2012 after Puyallup tribal police notified the Washington State Patrol that several people had tried to cash fake checks at the tribe’s casino.

Between then and April 2013, at least 71 people cashed checks from the state treasurer’s account.

Although the account and routing numbers were accurate, the checks listed various businesses to make them appear as payroll checks, according to charging papers.

The state did not lose any money from the scheme, said Andrew Smith, communications director for the state Treasurer’s Office.

“All of the counterfeit checks would have been returned to the bank of first deposit who are likely out the money,” Smith said.

Debose allegedly recruited people he met at stores, bars or through acquaintances.

He’d give them a check, drive them in his BMW to a business and wait for them to cash the check. Debose then would give them a cut of the money, court records show.

In one case, Debose allegedly demanded a man cash the check in Kitsap County and threatened to shoot his parents if he failed to come back with the money.

The man was arrested in Port Orchard on an outstanding warrant before he could cash the check.

Another man told investigators Debose gave him marijuana to deliver checks to people who were recruited into the check cashing scheme.

Police served a warrant at Debose’s Auburn apartment in February 2013. They said they found $1,000 hidden in a DVD case, shredded checks with the state Treasurer’s Office account number, check-making software, checks and a laptop.

A loaded handgun was discovered under the hood of his BMW, records show.

Prosecutors said the investigation is ongoing and more people could be charged.