FAYETTEVILLE -- Four men were sentenced this week for a mail theft and bank fraud scheme that netted them about $24,000 in stolen checks, U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge announced Tuesday.
Shawn Cox of Prairie Grove, Christopher Evans of Colcord, Okla., Spencer Mason of Bentonville and Erick Picker-Ramirez of Fayetteville each were sentenced to between 18 and 37 months in prison and three years of supervised release, plus about $21,000 in restitution split among the group. They each were convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and of possession of stolen mail.
"Fraud and theft of mail are serious crimes that involve the personal finances of hard-working individuals and can have long lasting impacts on numerous victims," Eldridge, attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, wrote in an emailed statement. "We remain committed to investigating and prosecuting those who perpetrate fraud and swindle others out of their hard earned money."
Investigators from the Washington County Sheriff's Office, the Fayetteville Police Department, the U.S. Postal Service and the Secret Service began the case a year ago when several residents reported checks they'd put in the mail had been altered before going through their banks.
In July 2014 investigators searched Mason's Springdale residence and found mail marked for other addresses, checks that had been chemically "washed" to allow names and dollar amounts to be changed, and chemicals used in the washing process.
The four men admitted involvement with the operation, Eldridge said. Cox, 31, said he'd cashed two or three checks per day for between $400 and $800 each for several months and was sentenced to 36 months imprisonment. Evans, 31, said he'd stolen from about 100 mailboxes and was sentenced to 24 months. Mason, 34, was sentenced to 37 months, and Picker-Ramirez, 35, was sentenced to 18 months.
During the investigation, authorities also came across a separate check-theft ring, which Eldridge said was led by Benjamin Ramsfield, 34, of Greenland. Ramsfield's operation netted about $20,000. He was sentenced in May to 41 months imprisonment, three years supervised release and about $8,400 restitution.
The two rings could have been connected, but investigators couldn't definitively link them, said Joyce Snow, a spokeswoman for Eldridge. Five of Ramsfield's accomplices pleaded guilty last year or this year to drug possession and forgery charges in Washington County Circuit Court.
NW News on 07/02/2015