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More Than 40 Arrested, Others Sought In Check Fraud Ring

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The Houston Police Department, along with the U. S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and other state and local agencies announced the arrests of dozens of suspects believed responsible for the theft of checks and money orders from apartment complex lock boxes in the Houston area.

Information was developed that identified a group of individuals targeting apartment complex drop boxes in the metropolitan Houston area, specifically in 21 jurisdictions from Harris, Montgomery, Brazoria and Galveston counties. Those individuals burglarized numerous drop boxes where money orders used to pay monthly rent were deposited. The individuals then “washed” the money orders and counterfeited them. The criminal organization also recruited numerous individuals, some of whom were homeless, to cash the fraudulent money orders at various check cashing locations.

Concurrent investigations into these organized criminal acts were linked through investigation and crime analysis and joined into a coordinated multi-agency investigation, coordinated by HSI.

Within Harris County, a joint investigation by the HPD Gang and Investigative First Responder Divisions, HSI and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office identified and charged 22 suspects with engaging in organized crime and one with forgery. On April 18, a warrant sweep was conducted by HPD, HSI and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Eighteen suspects were arrested and charged with engaging in organized criminal activity for their roles.

The arrested suspects are: Eddie Lewis (b/m, DOB: 9-8-82), Rita Vela (w/f, DOB: 2-11-84), Dawonna Banks (b/m, DOB: 8-31-88), Richard Carter (b/m, DOB: 8-31-87), William Gaynor (b/m, DOB: 7-22-89), Shamon Watts (b/f, DOB: 9-30-82), Lois Tezeno (b/f, DOB: 11-4-81), Treai Rhone (b/f, DOB: 2-22-82), Domique Powers (b/f, DOB: 3-14-87), Howard Turk (b/m, DOB: 10-9-88), Marisela Estrada (H/f, DOB: 2-24-80), Tameka Norton (b/f, DOB: 7-6-71), Errol Goff (b/m, DOB: 9-10-79), Robert Salinas (b/m, DOB: 2-21-82), Deon Garcia (H/m, DOB: 1-3-77), Cedric Whitehurst (b/m, DOB: 10-8-83), Antonio Whitehurst (b/m, DOB: 11-14-86) and Anthony Anderson (b/m, DOB: 11-27-75). At this time, all suspects are charged with engaging in organized criminal activity.

Due to the on-going nature of this investigation, mug shots of the suspects are not being released at this time.

Investigators are also asking for the public’s help in locating five additional suspects wanted for their involvement in these incidents. They are identified as: Arturo “Cherio Villarreal (w/m, DOB: 2-7-83), LaKesha Jackson (b/f, DOB: 1-10-83), Melissa Anders (w/f, DOB: 10-25-86), Lillie Wright (b/f, DOB: 7-22-89), and Ellyn Ustica (w/f, DOB: 8-15-73).

Villareal and Jackson were last seen driving either a 2002 green, four-door Buick LeSabre with Texas license plates BX2D465 or a 1997 beige/tan, four-door Toyota sedan with Texas license plates DK3M752.

Photos of the five wanted suspects are attached to this news release.

Also participating in this investigation are the Conroe Police Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Baytown Police Department, Texas City Police Department, League City Police Department, Webster Police Department, Friendswood Police Department, Clute Police Department, Pasadena Police Department, Pearland Police Department, Katy Police Department, Missouri City Police Department, Rosenberg Police Department, Lake Jackson Police Department, Freeport Police Department, Round Rock Police Department Austin Police Department and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.

At this time, more than 40 individuals have been arrested and charged by participating law enforcement agencies conducting concurrent investigations. Additional arrests are pending.
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the remaining wanted suspects is urged to contact any other participating law enforcement agencies or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

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