Thieves' scheme to steal $40,000 from Valley banks tied to high profile murder

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A ring of thieves is responsible for stealing about $40,000 from banks in the Central Valley, but their methods may lead police directly to them.

Police say the crooks used bad checks and well-timed withdrawals, but the withdrawals may lead to their demise, and the investigation is tied to a high profile murder.

The numbers are staggering: $40,000 taken from Valley banks in just a few weeks.

Action News uncovered search warrants detailing how about 20 people used an effective scheme to turn bad checks into big cash.

But legal analyst Tony Capozzi says the crimes aren't very sophisticated. "Just a clear trail from the moment the accounts are opened to the moment the money is taken out of the account," he said. "How someone expected to get away with this is hard to understand."

Investigators say the suspects deposited big fake checks in real bank accounts, then withdrew as much money as they could before the banks caught on.

Most of the checks were written on an account closed in 2015 by a man who was a burglary victim and most of the money came from EECU, which police described as having "lenient credit limits on checks deposited via ATM."

Capozzi says investigators might pay particular attention to the case because of the amount of money stolen, and a possible gang connection.

A used car dealership employee told police one of the suspects tried to get a repossessed car back and said he'd come back with "30 people to shoot up the place" if they didn't give it back.

"It appears as though the facts here are pretty strong against him in this case, especially when he goes to retrieve a car after it had been seized and he threatens the owner," Capozzi said.

Investigators attribute the threat to Isaac Stafford.

In 2015, he was involved in the death of 9-year-old Janessa Ramirez. Stafford was driving when another man opened fire on gang member Brian Cooks, who fired back and killed Janessa.

Prosecutors never charged Stafford in that case, but Capozzi says investigators have a lot of evidence against him and the other suspects in this bad check scheme.

"Their footprints are there, their fingerprints are there and they're on video camera taking money from an account that really doesn't have the money in it," he said.

Police say they intend to make arrests in the case, but at this point, prosecutors haven't filed any charges.
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