Using only a home computer and laser printer, Andrew Thomas Lehet made lots of money, police say. And he used the loot to buy more home computers.
Trouble is, he literally made the money.
Lehet, 46, and his roommate, Jeffrey Kent Zeltner, 26, both of Oviedo, were charged last week with bank fraud, interstate transport of stolen property and counterfeiting _ all federal offenses. Lehet is being held at the Seminole County Jail in Sanford without bail; Zeltner was released on $10,000 bail.
Police say the two men pulled off a sophisticated scam in which they bought computer equipment using counterfeit cashier's checks, then sold the electronics to computer stores for cash. The scheme worked in about 10 Florida counties, including Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Alachua and Duval.
"The quality of these checks was very difficult, very difficult to distinguish from the real checks," said Russ Clark, manager of investigative support for Barnett Bank's corporate security office. "I've worked other counterfeit cases in the past, but none had the quality of these checks. They were really good."
Since April 3, police throughout Florida have received about 30 reports of counterfeit Barnett Bank cashier's checks, said Orange County Sheriff's Detective Peter Daiger, who investigated the case along with agents from the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the St. Petersburg Police Department, the U.S. Secret Service and Seminole County deputies.
A search of the home shared by Lehet and Zeltner turned up the computer equipment used to print the bank checks, as well as $20,000 in counterfeit currency, Daiger said.
Barnett Bank suffered the greatest losses, officials say. Much of the money was spent in cashing bogus checks, Clark said, but a good bit of money also was spent redesigning the bank's security system.
Clark declined to elaborate on the bank's new security measures, lest other would-be counterfeiters find out the bank's secrets. "I will say we are using state-of-the-art security enhancements to our new checks. We're making it difficult, if not impossible, to copy or duplicate them," he said.
Lehet and Zeltner apparently printed bogus Barnett cashier's checks on a home laser printer and passed them to unsuspecting owners of computer equipment, police say.
Typically, Lehet would contact people trying to sell home computers who had advertised in local newspapers and make an offer to buy the equipment. In most cases, Lehet would show up unannounced at the home of someone trying to sell a computer, cashier's check in hand, late in the evening, said St. Petersburg police Detective Rod Frankland.
Police were able to recover about $90,000 worth of computer equipment and 25 to 30 pieces of electronics equipment.
"These people actually made counterfeit bank checks and money in good fashion," Daiger said. "They had a heck of a thing going here."
_ CAROL MARBIN