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Police say check scammers duping homeless

DULUTH -- The money never made it to Burger King.

It was May 15 in Duluth, and instead of obeying orders, a homeless Atlantan named Benjamin Grove told a security officer at Gwinnett Community Bank the check he'd been recruited to cash was forged. The officer called in Duluth police, who located the three alleged masterminds across Buford Highway at Burger King -- the drop point -- and fleeing the scene in a black Honda Accord, police reports show.

Police found two checks, earmarked for "Renovations," totaling $3,715 that were linked to a Kiwanis Club of Suwanee account. The account was not diminished, a report says.

The alleged trio are the latest examples in a crime pattern around Gwinnett in recent years involving shysters who recruit homeless people, primarily from Atlanta soup kitchens and missions, to do their dirty work -- that is, cash forged checks and run the risk of interfacing with bank personnel.

Police say the crooks are savvy and have incorporated high-tech equipment or chemicals to scrub handwritten information from legitimate checks. One source for the checks is pilfered mailboxes.

"This is a (modus operandi) that is seen frequently," said Duluth police spokesman Maj. Don Woodruff.

In the Duluth case, all three suspects -- Travis Odom, of Decatur, and Darryll Alderman and Erica Wilson, both of Atlanta -- were indicted in Gwinnett this month on counts of first-degree criminal solicitation to commit forgery.

Both checks were made out to homeless men -- Grove and Sherman Jackson -- who told police they'd been enticed into vehicles with promises of money and work. Both were driven to a hotel, stripped of their identification, and then driven to Duluth the following day, the reports state.

Their stories mirror what three homeless Atlanta men, all arrested on forgery charges, told Braselton police in November 2008, the third instance of check forgery involving the homeless in a year, Braselton police said at the time.

A teller at the Braselton bank thought the checks -- belonging to a Hoschton forklift servicing company -- were bogus and called police.

Earlier this year, Norcross police made several arrests in a check-washing scheme that bilked a Norcross business of $7,700.

Homeless people are often recruited to do the cashing, police say, in exchange for a portion of the money.

Woodruff said banks typically will cover losses in cases involving forged checks. Restitution could be awarded later by the courts, he said.

In the Duluth case, neither homeless man was charged. Instead, an officer drove them to the Doraville MARTA train station and provided fares to return to Atlanta when both said they were broke.