ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) — Two Georgia men are facing charges after local police say they targetted homeless people as part of a counterfeit check cashing conspiracy.
The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests of Charles Vaughn Collins Jr., 36, and Anthony Stegall, 57, both of Atlanta.
According to the sheriff’s office, a joint investigation with the Unicoi and Erwin police departments was launched on Jan. 27 when someone tried to pass a counterfeit check at the Mountain Commerce Bank in Unicoi.
“Investigators determined that the attempt was a conspiracy involving numerous individuals believed to be from out of state, and utilizing homeless individuals to accomplish the act,” Chief Deputy Frank Rogers said in a release Wednesday.
Rogers said an organized group approached homeless individuals and asked them if they wanted to earn money for work.
“After the homeless individual would get into the vehicle different tactics are deployed to persuade or cause the homeless person to cash the check at banking institutions located along interstate highways,” Rogers said. “If the attempt was unsuccessful, or in the event of law enforcement notification, the organizers would simply abandon the plot and leave the homeless person holding the bag and make a swift get away.”
If the attempt was successful, Rogers said the group would travel to another bank to attempt the same scheme.
On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office, Unicoi Police Department, and Erwin Police Department were notified of an unsuccessful attempt at the Mountain Commerce Bank in Erwin followed by a second attempt at the branch in Unicoi. Investigators spotted a suspect at the Dollar General off Highway 173, but when Unicoi police attempted to conduct a traffic stop, the suspect fled, according to Rogers.
Unicoi officers chased the suspect onto Green Oak Road before the vehicle crashed. The driver, identified as Vaughn, was seriously injured in the crash and remained hospitalized as of Wednesday afternoon.
“Investigators found evidence in the vehicle which ties the driver to the bank fraud scheme, $11,100.00 cash as well as crack cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana,” Rogers said.
Vaughn is facing several charges, including criminal conspiracy to commit theft greater than $1,000, criminal simulation, forgery, possession of narcotics with intent to sell or deliver, and felony evading arrest.
A second suspect, identified as Stegall, was taken into custody at the Unicoi branch of Mountain Commerce Bank. Authorities have charged him with worthless check fraud, forgery, criminal conspiracy to commit theft greater than $1,000, and criminal simulation.