Six illegal aliens who forged thousands of dollars worth of checks in Independence and Sharp counties have pleaded guilty in Sharp County Circuit Court and will serve 36 months in minimum security Arkansas corrections facilities.
Alver Soso Rian, 26, Edy Jose Benitez Mendosa, 31, Jesus Palacious Melgosa, 21, David Lopez Benites, 30, Carlos Villa Aguilar, 34, and Marco Esparsa, 37, pleaded guilty Oct. 9 to 12 counts of second-degree forgery in Sharp County.
Five of the men will be forced to pay $2,500 in fines, $150 in court costs and $250 to the DNA fund. Benites's fines and court costs were waived by the judge. Their restitution is to be determined, according to the judgment and commitment order signed Oct. 9. Their sentences are to run concurrently with their sentences imposed April 21 in Independence County for 36 months.
The men were arrested Oct. 4, 2002, in Hardy after committing 42 forgeries in Independence County over a period of two days. Their forgery scam moved into Sharp County soon after with the men cashing several checks totaling more than $32,000 at First National Bank of Sharp County offices.
The checks in Sharp County were from an account issued to Cowart Construction Company in Salem and were all in the $800 range -- amounts consistent with those cashed in Independence County, said Mack Thompson, special agent with the Arkansas State Police. While at Wal-Mart Supercenter in Ash Flat with his wife, Thompson recognized the men cashing checks at the bank's Wal-Mart branch as the men from surveillance tape he has seen from Independence County. Thompson employed the help of his wife and gained a description of the men and told police their direction of travel. The men were captured just miles away in Hardy.
The checks from Independence County were from M.A. Jones of Batesville. The forgeries totaled more than $35,000. Some of the names written on the checks were the same names as those listed on the checks in Independence County.
Shortly after the arrest, law enforcement officers from Arkansas and Missouri met and compared notes regarding the scam. Cases were cleared in Mountain View, Jonesboro, Springdale, West Plains, Mo., and Branson, Mo.
It is believed that the men gained entry to Cowart's through an office window and stole the checks from the bottom of a stack of unprinted checks. That is all that was taken from the business.
All of the men had identifications from Tennessee although they all admitted to being illegal aliens.
Thompson said the scam had been going on for at least two years with the men traveling to numerous states. After stealing the checks, Hispanic men and sometimes women would then cash the checks at numerous branch offices of the bank the checks were drawn on. They were expected to be charged with $250,000 in forgeries in Arkansas alone.
Investigators suspected documents were also stolen which contained signatures of the business owner because of the realistic appearance of the signatures.