ST. GEORGE — Three suspects from Las Vegas are in jail after a 911 call from a local bank brought police officers to River Road to investigate fraudulent activity.
Charges were filed by the Washington County Attorney’s Office Friday against Damon Ward, 40, Jaszmen Steele, 33, and 45-year-old Lakeida White, all from Las Vegas, Nevada. They were arrested Thursday evening near the Chick-fil-A off River Road after a local bank reported a suspicious attempt to cash a fraudulent check, St. George Police officer Tiffany Atkin said.
Each defendant was charged with 11 third-degree felony counts, including one count of theft and 10 counts of possessing a forgery/writing device along with misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia charge, according to court records.
Steele and White also face one misdemeanor count of failing to stop at an officer’s command.
Ward allegedly attempted to pass a fraudulent check in the amount of $1,423, but after bank employees recognized the suspect from an incident two weeks prior, Ward’s activities were detected. Employees of the bank eventually stopped the transaction.
“We weren’t sure why the other two suspects drove off and left Ward inside the bank,” St. George Police officer Tiffany Atkin said.
Bank personnel also advised officers the suspect had passed two other fraudulent checks, also for $1,423, at two other local bank branches just prior to calling police.
St. George Police Lt. Ivor Fuller spotted the Chevrolet near the Chick-fil-A drive thru which was unoccupied initially, but minutes later, he observed two women matching the description of the suspects seen dropping Ward off at the bank get into the car. He approached the car and told the women they were being detained, at which time both fled the car on foot.
The pair was located and detained by police minutes later. Officers determined that White was actually Ward’s wife. They also discovered the vehicle was rented by Steele who also had an active warrant for her arrest, a records check revealed to police.
Ward told detectives during an interview that his wife, Steele, asked him to travel to St. George and cash the fake checks for some extra cash, adding that she provided the drafts just before he entered the bank and promised to pay him $100 for each check he was able to cash.
The report also states the defendant told police he gave the majority of the money to his wife, and also admitted to making the trek to the area two weeks ago for the same purpose, just as the bank employees reported.
He also said that while White “kind of knew what was going on,” he claimed she was not involved.
The defendant denied ownership of the marijuana found inside of the car, but admitted to smoking a “blunt” on his way to St. George.
During an interview with White, police say the defendant told them she was only in the area “to get weed,” and admitted later that Steele had asked her to cash fraudulent checks in Las Vegas before but denied participating in the activities reported Thursday.
Officers allegedly found marijuana during a search of Steele’s purse, along with a check stub that appeared to match the fraudulent checks found inside the vehicle. Steele denied any knowledge that there were checks in her name when confronted by police.
White told officers during a subsequent interview that she came to Utah to shop, and that Ward and Steele asked to travel with her. Only later did she admit to being the middle person who helped find people who have active bank accounts, and said she was paid $200 for each person who traveled to St. George to cash the checks that she knew were fraudulent. She also claimed that once the checks were cashed, the proceeds would go to someone else.
Fortunately, Atkin said, bank employees had just completed a training class aimed at improving their detection skills when confronted with counterfeit checks or drafts.
The incident Thursday was reported in the wake of a recent crime spree in July that involved three defendants from Florida that were arrested after allegedly burglarizing a number of vehicles and taking credit cards as they were passing through the area. The arrest was made possible thanks to the quick actions of officers and the information provided by the 911 callers, similar to what took place during the recent incident on River Road.
The three suspects appeared in 5th District Court Friday on the charges and are scheduled to appear for a roll call hearing Aug. 15. Ward is being held on $20,000 bail, while White and Steele remain in custody on $16,950 bail.
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