Suspects charged in fraud ring that bilked businesses out of thousands in allegedly forged payroll checks

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ST. GEORGE — A local man has been charged with more than a dozen offenses following an investigation into a forgery ring involving multiple suspects – two of whom are in custody.

Stock image of Three Amigos Market on North Bluff Street, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

The Washington County Attorney’s Office has formally charged 28-year-old Christian Omar Munoz with second-degree felony theft and nine third-degree felony charges of possession of a forgery-writing device. He also faces misdemeanor theft and providing false information of another actual person as well as registration and insurance violations.

According to charging documents filed with the court, the incident started with a report of a fraudulent check, which then evolved into a larger investigation when authorities learned that more than 20 forged checks had been passed in St. George and surrounding jurisdictions.

The first report came in April 20, when the owner of 3 Amigos Market reported that a woman was in the store attempting to cash a fraudulent payroll check for almost $900. The check was written on an account belonging to a landscaping company, according to the probable cause statement.

While the woman, later identified as 39-year-old Brenda Anguiano by her California driver’s license, was waiting inside the store, the owner called the landscaping company to verify the payroll check had in fact been issued to the recipient listed, which is when the market owner learned the company had not issued the check to the payee listed on the draft.

The manager of the landscaping company responded to the store to speak to the woman, and was told she arrived with a man who was outside waiting in a car. The landscaping employee recognized the man, later identified as Luis Adrian Benitez Molina, as a former employee of the company, but before officers arrived he drove off, leaving Anguiano at the store.

The report also states Anguiano attempted to flee the store on foot but was stopped by bystanders and detained before she was able to get away.

The store owner told officers the same woman was in the store the previous day and had cashed a check from the same landscaping company for $1,700, a check that later turned out to be a forgery.

The officer also noted in the report that Anguiano was part of a fraud ring out of California. She was transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility where she has remained since her arrest April 20.

Meanwhile, Molina was also located and interviewed by police. He was later released pending further investigation.

File photo for illustrative purposes only of St. George Police officers closing east end of 490 North to thru traffic while for firefighters, St. George, Utah, May 19, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

One week later a detective assigned to the case had contacted the landscaping company for follow up and learned that several fraudulent checks were cashed from their business account.

Through the course of the investigation officers compiled a list of 21 forged checks that were cashed at various local businesses throughout St. George with losses estimated at more than $18,700. Five suspects were allegedly involved, including Anguiano who was already in custody, as well as Molina who was interviewed a second time by authorities.

Molina allegedly admitted to possessing one of the fraudulent checks and told authorities he had given one of his payroll checks to Munoz, who allegedly used the check information to print multiple forged checks.

According to the report, Munoz printed multiple checks, some under a different name that was attached to an identified card that did not exist, and then attempted to cash a number of the checks at several businesses in St. George, including two at Check City. The first check was cashed successfully, while the second was not.

There were also checks written on a building company account, the report states, and when the suspects attempted to cash those checks at the market in St. George, the owner recognized them as being forged and refused the transaction.

During a search of Molina’s car, officers located two of the checks totaling more than $2,260 made out to Munoz inside of a black bag, a number of which were made out to a different name but were cashed by Munoz who signed his real name first, the officer wrote, then crossed it out and endorsed it using the name listed on the check.

Officers located Munoz on Wednesday and transported him to the police station for an interview. When he arrived, detectives recognized him from the surveillance footage captured by several of the businesses where the forged checks were reportedly cashed.

The report states that Munoz was very evasive during the interview with police and continued to identify himself by a completely different name and proceeded to “change his story” throughout the interview.

Stock image of Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 21, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The suspect provided a date of birth that did not match the age given to officers and then changed the year of birth several times when confronted by authorities who advised him “his math was incorrect.”

As the interview continued, the suspect was shown still shots taken of him cashing the checks, which he allegedly said was his brother. It wasn’t until police sent a family member a photo of the man they were interviewing that officers were able to positively identify the suspect as Christian Munoz.

Officers reported that nearly $5,200 in checks were passed by Munoz. He was transported to jail, and the following day the 15 charges as listed were filed against him. He remains in custody without bail.

Anguiano, who was arrested at the market in April, was later charged with four third-degree felonies, including two counts of theft, one count of forgery and one count of evading police. She pleaded guilty to three of the charges on May 23 and is scheduled  to appear for a  sentencing hearing July 8.

Following Munoz’s arrest, the investigation into the forgery ring is ongoing.

Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained. 

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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