Check thefts bought drugs, police allege

Investigators say bank may have lost $200,000

May 11, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

It starts, simply enough, with stolen checkbooks. It ends, commonly enough, with cocaine on Baltimore streets. Along the way, federal prosecutors say, two men accused of drug dealing may have swindled a bank out of nearly $200,000.

Amos Clarke, 21, and Daiwor Togbah Woah-Tee, 26, are in jail awaiting a Friday arraignment in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, each charged with a single count of distributing cocaine.

Court documents detail a scheme by which the suspects allegedly raised front money for drugs by stealing checks and recruiting addicts to cash them at First Union Bank branches in Maryland and Washington.

Investigators said the checks were kept under $500 to avoid suspicion. They said addicts were piled into vans and driven from bank to bank, often cashing checks against unsuspecting account holders 20 to 30 times a day.

Police estimate First Union's loss at up to $200,000 in a scheme lending institutions call "Run on the bank." Detectives said the money was used to buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of cocaine in New York, which was sold to street dealers in Baltimore.

Paul Hazelhurst, a federal public defender who represents Clarke, declined to comment on the case yesterday. A lawyer for Woah-Tee could not be reached to comment.

Danielle Deabler, a spokeswoman for First Union, said corporate policy forbids her to comment on pending investigations.

Clarke and Woah-Tee were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury. Investigators with High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal law enforcement task force, said they seized $7,000 and numerous stolen checkbooks from one of the suspect's houses in the 6000 block of Arizona Ave.

Prosecutors and police declined to comment, but court documents say Detective Keith Gladstone infiltrated the small organization and opened up bogus bank accounts at First Union.

During the two-month investigation that began in March, the documents say that Gladstone was paid $50 for every check he successfully cashed. He would then give the remaining money, typically $450 on each check, to the suspects. In one day, the documents say, checks were cashed at First Union branches on Sinclair Lane and at two other banks in Washington.

Police said they arrested the suspects at a Northeast Baltimore parking lot at Frankford Avenue and Belair Road after setting up an undercover drug deal for 500 grams of cocaine worth an estimated $14,000.

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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