Newark Man Pleads Guilty To Role In Check-Stealing Scheme

NEWARK – A Newark man admitted his role in a scheme to gain access to personal checks from the U.S. mail, fraudulently endorse and deposit them into personal checking accounts, U.S. Paul J. Fishman announced.

Kurtis Steele, 26, pleaded guilty on Feb. 21 before U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty in Newark federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Steele and his conspirators gained access to blank checks that were sent via U.S. Mail and stolen from unsuspecting victims. Steele and his co-conspirators then fraudulently endorsed the blank checks for a certain sum and deposited those checks into legitimate bank accounts that defendants and unnamed conspirators opened at the banks, including TD Bank, Bank of America, Capital One Bank, Garden State Community Bank, Hudson City Savings Bank, PNC Bank and Valley National Bank.

Before the victims and banks discovered the checks were fraudulent, Steele and his conspirators had withdrawn the funds either via Automated Teller Machine (ATM) or by entering the banks and filling out a withdrawal slip. During the investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and FBI agents were able to obtain bank video surveillance which captured Steele making fraudulent deposits of the stolen checks and withdrawals of the proceeds of those checks.

Steele and his conspirators deposited $1.5 million in fraudulent checks stolen from 122 victims, which were deposited into 258 different banks. Steele and his conspirators’ conduct resulted in approximately $625,000 in loss.

Steele faces a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison on the conspiracy charge and a maximum fine of $1 million or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for May 29.

Fishman credited special agents of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Philip Bartlett; and special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge David Velazquez.

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