Police say fraud ring dismantled

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Recent arrests have dealt a significant blow to a sophisticated and widespread check-fraud ring that managed to bilk nearly a half-million dollars from commercial and private customers at two major banks, police said Tuesday.

Gwinnett police shed light on an investigation that began last year that's chalked more than 80 felony charges against 14 conspirators, including two employees of Wachovia and Bank of America branches, authorities said.

The total take: $420,000, police told the Daily Post.

The scheme involved key players sending eight recruits to cash fraudulent checks as a means to buffer themselves from the crimes, police said. The bank employees -- two women from Atlanta -- allegedly stole checking account information to create bogus checks, payable to the recruits.

Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Brian Kelly said more than 20 victim accounts were profiled and compromised. Documents show the group targeted victims in a wide radius, from Delaware to Texas.

Among the commercial victims: a Kennesaw rent-to-own real estate group; an Ellenwood charity; a Lithonia-based church; a painting company and a transportation business, according to arrest warrants.

Investigators in a Gwinnett police electronic and financial crimes unit began linking similar fraud cases last year. Two suspects, known only by the monikers "Diamond" and "Drop," emerged as possible ringleaders, Kelly said.

They've since been identified as a married couple from Dacula -- Tabitha "Diamond" Clarke, 37, and Adlai "Drop" Clarke, 34, Kelly said. Both face multiple counts of financial identity fraud and forgery. Tabitha Clarke was found in illegal possession of several firearms as well, her warrants state.

Other key players include: Bank of America employee Tamika Crayton, 24, of Atlanta; Wachovia employee Stephanie Williams, 42, of Atlanta, and Kimberly Daley, 29, of Decatur, police said.

The name of a sixth central figure is being withheld, police said.

The cases all bore commonalities -- namely, the people cashing the checks, Kelly said. Other "elements" left behind and analyses used to catch the suspects could not be disclosed, he said.

None of the money has been recovered.

"It'll be up to the courts at this point to order restitution for the victims -- Wachovia and Bank of America," Kelly said.

The case, which remains under investigation, has attracted interest from federal authorities and could have a global reach by the time it's over, Kelly said.

"One can only presume (the current case) represents the tip of the iceberg," he said.