Turk File

Counterfeiters working out of Lafayette hotels off to prison

by Leslie Turk

Trio conspired to cash counterfeit commercial checks at banks in Lafayette, Broussard, Crowley, Lake Charles and Sulphur

A trio of Georgia men who worked out of Lafayette hotels to carry out their counterfeiting scheme, recruiting homeless people to cash fake checks, is doing some serious time.

U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced Feb. 14 that the men were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi for operating a counterfeit check scheme that bilked thousands of dollars from business bank accounts in South Central and Southwest Louisiana. A jury found them guilty on Nov. 8 after a five-day trial.

Anthown Latarius Swan, 28, of Fairburn, was sentenced to 50 months in prison, Orlando Brian Washington, 29, of Riverdale, was sentenced to 24 months in prison, and Lavar Elliot Kittelberger, 33, of Marietta, was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Kittleberger was also sentenced to an additional 24 months in prison for aggravated identity theft. They were also all sentenced to five years of supervised release.

The defendants are must pay $74,026 in restitution, except for Kittleberger, who is responsible for $67,327. All of the defendants were convicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud a financial institution and possession of stolen mail. Swan and Washington were also convicted of eight counts of fictitious obligations, and Kittelberger was convicted on five counts of fictitious obligations and one count of aggravated identity theft.

According to evidence and testimony presented at the trial, the defendants stayed at Lafayette hotels and stole from area businesses' mailboxes looking for commercial checks sent to those businesses and drawn on local banks. They used account information on the original checks to print the counterfeit checks and recruited individuals off the street and from homeless shelters who had valid identification to cash the fake checks.

Counterfeit checks were cashed at banks in Lafayette, Broussard, Crowley, Lake Charles and Sulphur. After a search of the group's hotel room on Nov. 27, 2012, authorities found the 43 original stolen checks worth $155,223 in addition to a computer, printer and blank check paper.

The fourth co-defendant of the group, Kwame Raphael Cunningham, 22, of Augusta, Ga., pleaded guilty on Aug. 22 and was sentenced on Dec. 6 to 15 months in prison for conspiracy to defraud financial institutions and 24 months in prison for aggravated identity theft. He also received two years of supervised release.

Cunningham also must make restitution.

The U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Lafayette Police Department, with assistance from the Sulphur Police Department, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office and the Louisiana State Police, conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett L. Grayson and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert C. Abendroth prosecuted the case.