Scott Douglas Myers, Crystal Bowers, Thomas McIntire and Linda Amerio appeared in U.S. District Court in Mobile on Thursday on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and possession of counterfeit securities.
An affidavit filed by the Secret Service states that the four pulled their scam at Wal-Mart stores on Rangeline Road off Interstate 10 and on Schillinger Road, just south of Airport Boulevard.
Homeless people cashed bogus paychecks for $250 each and then gave most of the money to Myers and McIntire, according to the affidavit. Bowers and Amerio allegedly received some of the money for serving as lookouts.
Federal court records show that Myers, 36, was convicted of misuse of a Social Security number, fraud and sexual exploitation of a minor. He is wanted by federal authorities in Ohio on a probation violation.
His attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Peter Madden, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bert Milling Jr. said he would appoint lawyers for the other three.
The Secret Service arrested the four suspects this week after the U.S. Postal Inspection Service passed along a tip from an informant.
A man who was stopped by authorities last week told investigators that he had been hired to recruit homeless people at the 15 Place shelter on North Joachim Street in downtown Mobile, according to the affidavit.
Mobile apparently was just the latest stop in this scam, which has targeted a number of cities over the past nine months.
Tom Impastato, the resident agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Mobile office, said investigators are working with Wal-Mart to figure out how much money the group stole from stores across the country. He said it appears to be at least $10,000 to $20,000 and possibly far more.
As technology has improved, Impastato said, counterfeit checks have grown increasingly popular.
“Counterfeit checks are as big a problem as counterfeit money,” he said. “You can print this stuff without a whole lot of expertise now.”
McIntire told investigators that he met Myers in St. Louis in May and began working cons with him, the affidavit states.
According to what McIntire said, the scam worked like this:
McIntire would recruit participants from homeless shelters, making sure the recruits had legitimate identification. Each homeless person would be paid $25 to cash a check at a Wal-Mart store.
The checks, which Myers printed and usually bore the name of a nonexistent carnival company or salvage firm, were made out for $300.
McIntire told investigators that they would hit stores over and over until the homeless person got arrested.
Sometimes, McIntire and Myers used a “seeker,” a local person good at finding homeless people. The pair would pay a 10 percent finders’ fee to the seekers.
McIntire told investigators that he would deal directly with the seekers to insulate Myers from them.
The women, Amerio and Bowers, served as “eyeballs.” They would go into the stores with the homeless people to monitor the transactions and report when the homeless people had been arrested. That would signal the need to move to the next city.
Amerio admitted her involvement, telling investigators that she met Myers in Mansfield, Ohio, according to the affidavit.
Bowers told authorities that she started traveling with the group in February and saw Myers print 400 to 500 bogus checks.
After hitting Wal-Marts in St. Louis for about a month, the foursome moved on to Kansas City, perhaps Wichita, Kan., Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Okla., and Fort Smith, Ark.
In Fort Smith, police arrested McIntire and a “seeker,” along with three homeless check cashers. McIntire said he posted a $500 bond and left town.
After that arrest, Myers reduced the amount of the checks to just less than $250 in order to avoid arousing suspicions at the Wal-Marts, McIntire told investigators.
The group worked Dallas for about three weeks before moving to Louisiana and Houston.
Investigators raided two trailers, where the four suspects were staying at a Theodore trailer park and seized two laptop computers, a color printer with magnetic ink cartridges and Versa-Check paper used by some companies to print their own payroll checks.
In addition, investigators found multiple lists of Wal-Mart stores and an extensive list of what appears to be names, addresses, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of people authorities believe were homeless people used in past scams.
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