A federal investigation into fake checks allegedly passed throughout the region has spurred charges against nearly 70 people — 38 of whom reside in Kingsport — with investigators saying they fraudulently collected approximately $100,000 in cash with the scheme.
Since Wednesday morning local agencies have been assisting the Secret Service in arresting the suspects, who reside in both Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. As of 2 p.m. Thursday 49 arrests had been made, with authorities believing the final approximately 20 individuals would be apprehended shortly.
The case was made public at a Thursday afternoon press conference outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Abingdon, Va. Multiple law enforcement agencies and prosecutors were present, including Secret Service personnel and U.S. Marshals.
Authorities report the suspects were cashing fraudulent check at retailers throughout the region. U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Timothy Heaphy said the fraudulent checks were Comdata notes, typically used by truck drivers to purchase per diem items while on the road.
The fake checks allegedly displayed account numbers and names of several national trucking companies, with most cashed at Walmart locations. Suspects reportedly used their own names on the checks — and presented their own IDs to store personnel to complete the transactions.
Authorities are still investigating how the suspects worked in concert to create and obtain the fake checks, acknowledging that someone with access to the trucking companies' information may have played a part. Heaphy said the dollar amount for the fake checks were relatively small — between $100 and $500 — with the individuals now charged likely thinking the lesser amounts could fly under the radar of authorities.
"We want information about this case to serve as a warning," Heaphy said. "We want it to alert people that we are paying attention, that we will aggressively root out financial crime and punish those who commit fraud.
"Anyone out there who has intentionally passed a counterfeit check should be afraid today, very afraid."
Throughout Wednesday and Thursday the Secret Service was assisted in making arrests by multiple local police agencies, including Kingsport, Sullivan County and Wise County police.
The case began in December at the Washington County, Va. Sheriff's Office. Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman said the Walmart at Exit 7 passed an excessive amount of checks for multiple individuals in a single day, later learning the trucking companies' Comdata payments were phony.
The store then contacted police, who in turn contacted the Secret Service. Investigators said that since that time they've traced the cashing of such fake checks as far back as July.
None of the suspects have been indicted, but were apprehended on criminal complaints. They are each charged with one count of conspiracy to possess, with the intent to defraud, false and fictitious checks. Heaphy said additional charges of conspiracy are pending.
He added that local and federal authorities take all financial fraud seriously, whether the victim is an individual citizen or national retailer.
"The merchants who accepted these bad checks lost money," Heaphy said. "We will do what we can to protect victims, and the main way to do that is to prosecute those who steal."
Kingsport, Tenn., residents charged in the investigation are:
Tommy Reece Bernard, 6/30/59
Paul Eugene Bishop, 6/8/47
Randy Allen Bishop, 5/10/71
Danielle Vanessa Blakely, 8/9/94
Norman Edward Bowers Jr., 10/23/74
Samantha Leeann Collier, no DOB available
Angela Marie Collins, 9/14/76
Margaret Jewette Corder, 3/4/66
Stephanie Rose Duncan, 1/21/87
Tina Marie Elliott, 6/8/86
Kimberly Margaret Fletcher, no DOB available
Mickey Paul Fletcher, 6/24/75
David Michael Garber, no DOB available
Roy Junior Gibson, no DOB available
Jon David Gilliam, no DOB available
Teddy Ray Hammonds, 1/6/86
Nicholas Alan Hill, 6/5/92
David Allen Ingalls, 7/4/70
Angel Melvina Iuli, 9/12/77
Billy Joe Jackson, no DOB available
Darrell Everette Larkins, 8/16/62
Jeanette Cordelia Lipsett, 3/27/80
Emanuel Jose Lytel, 8/31/79
Melinda Kay Marshall, 1/20/69
Joseph Wesley McBryant, 11/8/75
Lance Eric Morrison, 6/25/70
Amanda Kay Mosley, no DOB available
Christ Jermaine Murchison, 7/10/71
Richard Wayne Necessary, 4/30/83
Heather Michelle Quiggle, 6/6/73
Randall Scott Rhoten, 7/25/69
Christina Louise Smith, 2/9/83
Daulton Lee Spellar, 5/11/94
Christopher David Sturgile, 10/6/77
Angela Marie Thombs, 1/13/82
Dustin Alexander Wallen, 4/6/92
Kevin Ray Ward, 2/9/76
Jerry Lee Williams Jr., no DOB available.
Other individuals charged are:
Joseph Elliott Adkins, 3/27/67, Weber City, Va.
Angel Diana Barry, 3/29/90, Rogersville, Tenn.
Tiffany Nicole Bowers, 9/2/94, Church Hill, Tenn.
Bobbie Joe Brown, 7/28/80, Jonesborough, Tenn.
Buren Jess Cook, no DOB available, Charlotte, N.C.
Santana Yvette Cordle, 9/1/88, Nickelsville, Va.
Lori Ann Duncan, 9/6/76, Weber City, Va.
Amanda Elizabeth Epley, 4/7/84, Bluff City, Tenn.
Geneva Farmer, 8/15/61, Church Hill, Tenn.
Theodore Roosevelt Faulkner 4th, 11/7/81, Piney Flats, Tenn.
Mitchell Edward Garvin, 8/26/88, Jonesborough, Tenn.
Angela Lynn Graham, age unavailable, Duffield, Va.
Whitley Nicole Grindstaff, age unavailable, Elizabethton, Tenn.
Terry Wayne Gunter, 1/24/66, Church Hill, Tenn.
Mark Clinton Harrell Jr., 8/9/91, Surgoinsville, Tenn.
Wiley Williams Herron, 5/19/76, Big Stone Gap, Va.
Amanda Jane Kemp, 3/26/76, Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Quinton Jamal Lowery, age unavailable, Knoxville, Tenn.
Hank Ryan Marshall, 12/18/92, Nickelsville, Va.
Jasmine Tawanda Newman, age unavailable, Knoxville Tenn.
Peggy G. Parker, 9/22/69, Abingdon, Va.
Phillip Radford Potter, 8/9/82, Roan Mountain, Tenn.
Joseph Edward Ramey, age unavailable, Gate City, Va.
Regina Elizabeth Sanico, 9/28/87, Church Hill, Tenn.
Leighton Simcox, 5/11/93, Weber City, Va.
Eric Thomas Simpson, age unavailable, Gate City, Va.
Derek Glenn Sluss, 2/17/80, Weber City, Va.
Tia Nicole Vaughan, 8/4/94, Duffield, Va.
Misty Dawn Whitaker, 6/13/79, Chuckey, Tenn.