City checks stolen, cashed 3 are charged

February 05, 1994|By Scott Higham and JoAnna Daemmrich | Scott Higham and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Kim Clark contributed to this article.

A Baltimore public works employee, her sister and another woman have been arrested for allegedly pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in a bold scheme that involved stealing a batch of blank checks from a city vault, city officials and sources said yesterday.

City workers discovered the scheme two weeks ago when they realized that someone had slipped into the supposedly secure payroll vault, taken a dozen checks and started cashing them for amounts ranging from $8,000 to $12,000.

The checks were stolen from the city's payroll office at 401 E. Fayette St. and run through a signature machine, police said. As of yesterday, five checks totaling $48,962 had been cashed, and seven checks were missing.

The city stopped payment on the seven missing checks.

City Hall officials had few explanations for the crime. With internal auditors and police investigating the theft, few people were talking about went wrong.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke declined to comment through a spokesman, citing the investigations.

Finance Director William R. Brown Jr., who oversees the payroll office, also declined to comment.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said she was stunned by the news. "Oh, my gosh," she said yesterday.

The scheme had been unfolding for two weeks, and police had been making arrests for 10 days. Arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit theft, theft and forging a stolen check were:

* Janet L. Zientak, who works for the city's Public Works Department. She was arrested Jan. 25 after allegedly cashing a stolen city check for $12,892 at the First National Bank Jan. 10.

* Josephine Garcia, Ms. Zientak's sister, who was arrested Tuesday after allegedly cashing a stolen city check for $8,870 at First National Bank Jan. 11.

* Linda Gail Boggs, whose relationship to Ms. Zientak and Ms. Garcia investigators said they did not know. She was arrested Wednesday after allegedly cashing a stolen city check for $9,300 at First National Bank Jan. 11.

Called at her home last night, Ms. Zientak would not answer questions about the case or to say whether she had been arrested. She said that she had hired a lawyer, but declined to provide a name.

"I'm not going to discuss it," she said before hanging up.

Ms. Garcia and Ms. Boggs could not be reached for comment.

The thefts surfaced Jan. 19, when someone in the payroll office discovered that a check was out of sequence. Employees searched the vault and found that a sealed package of checks had been broken into and that a batch of checks was missing. The next day, City Auditor Allan L. Reynolds called police.

"We're looking into how it could have been done," Mr. Reynolds said Friday.

City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said it appears that more than one employee concocted the scheme.

Police said that they expect more arrests. They said that one woman cashed two stolen city checks at the Hollinswood Shoe Center and Check Cashing Service on Patapsco Boulevard totaling $17,900. She has not been charged.

The woman allegedly cashed the first check there Jan. 11 for $8,960. The store's co-owner said yesterday that the woman had what appeared to be a regular payroll check with "Mayor and City Council of Baltimore" printed on top, accompanied by the official city seal.

Because the amount was so large, the check-cashing service called City Hall for an authorization. A female employee who answered the phone in the payroll office gave the approval, and the check was cashed.

"We called because of the amount. We try to verify unusually large checks," said co-owner Brian Satisky. He said that the store was satisfied with the authorization from City Hall and that the woman cashing the check also provided identification, although not a city worker ID.

Mr. Satisky said that he did not know the name of the woman at City Hall who approved the check.

One week later, the woman returned to the store with another check, this one for $8,940. Again, it was authorized by someone answering the phone at payroll and cashed, Mr. Satisky said. Within a week, however, police called to inform the owners of the check-cashing service that payment was being stopped because the check had been stolen.

Mr. Satisky, who has filed a complaint and hired a lawyer $H because the city is refusing to pay the $8,940, said, "We feel as though the city should be responsible."

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