ANCHORAGE - The last of three ringleaders in a major check fraud scam that defrauded Anchorage businesses of up to $200,000 was sentenced in federal court.
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Tuisheka Hughes, 27, was sentenced to three years in prison for her role in the operation that defrauded up to 44 businesses, according to the U.S. Attorney for Alaska.
Hughes was sentenced last week after pleading guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and cash counterfeit checks and possession of counterfeit securities with intent to deceive.
Co-defendant Monique Henderson, 34, was sentenced to three years in prison in October. Scam operator Rashad Dominic Arnsworth, 29, was sentenced last month to more than seven years. All three of the ringleaders have criminal records.
Investigators say the ringleaders paid people about $100 to get photocopies of their payroll checks. Using the routing and account numbers from the checks, they printed new checks using computer software, magnetic ink and check paper sold over-the-counter in most office-supply stores.
"They essentially hijacked these people's accounts," said Sgt. Derek DeGraaf, an investigator with the Alaska State Troopers computer and financial crimes unit.
The ring mostly stayed away from banks, which are better trained to spot fakes. It focused on small check-cashing businesses, Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart appears to have been hit hardest, with up to $100,000 of the fraudulent checks cashed there, DeGraaf said.
The checks, usually ranging in value from $600 to $900, were cashed by "runners" who would keep about $100 of the money. The checks would often have the name of one business on them and the account number of another, said Anchorage police detective Michele Logan.
Investigators were first tipped off by the businesses whose money was being stolen.
In the end about 30 runners were charged. Their testimony helped build the case against the three leaders, DeGraaf said.
Investigators could prove at least 130 runners were involved, but the actual number might be much higher, Logan said. A search of the computer the group used to print the checks suggested as much as $500,000 in bad checks cashed by up to 230 runners, she said.
"It was like a who's who of criminals in Anchorage," Logan said. "It was incredible. We'll never know if those checks were cashed or not."