Four men from Mexico have admitted conspiring to defraud banks by using false identification to cash stolen U.S. Treasury checks in a three-state crime spree that started in California and ended in Montana last year. The scheme netted the defendants more than $80,000.
A fifth defendant, Marisol Medina-Aviles, 21, of Los Angeles pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. She is to be sentenced June 24.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Whittaker said the scheme ended when the Montana Highway Patrol stopped a Ford Expedition near Three Forks for speeding May 6. All five defendants were in the car.
A search of Medina-Aviles turned up 17 stolen checks totaling $27,922 and 30 fake California driver’s licenses.
Whittaker said the defendants obtained the stolen checks and fake driver’s licenses and other identification corresponding to the payee names and addresses on the checks.
The defendants cashed the checks at US Bank branches by forging signatures. The group cashed checks in Billings and Butte, California and Wyoming, Whittaker said. Losses totaled $81,794.
The other defendants include Salvador Reyes, 50, Mauricio Urquiza-Flores, 21, Lorenzo Santos-Figueroa, 32, and Alberto Lagunas-Soto, 55.
All four pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and face a maximum 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Reyes and Urquiza-Flores also pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft and face a mandatory two years consecutive to any other sentence.
Santos-Figueroa also pleaded guilty to a bank fraud count.
Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull set sentencing for July 7. All defendants remain in custody.