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ST. MARYS — A New York woman faces three felony charges after allegedly attempting to defraud a local Chase Bank.
Sarah L. Webster, 35, of Bronx, New York, was ordered held on a $75,000 bond with a 10 percent cash provision on one count each of forgery, a fifth-degree felony, identity fraud, a third-degree felony, and possession of criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony, during a bond hearing Monday morning. Auglaize County Municipal Court Judge Gary Herman ordered the case set for a preliminary hearing. Webster, who also is wanted in New York on a parole violation warrant, was arrested on Friday following an incident at the Chase Bank in downtown St. Marys.
St. Marys Police Chief Greg Foxhoven said his department received a phone call at 3:10 p.m. Friday from the Wapakoneta Police Department reporting a woman had unsuccessfully attempted to defraud Chase Banks in Cridersville and Wapakoneta. Dispatchers then started to call the local banks when a bank employee reported a woman fitting the description was inside the local Chase Bank.
“They had a good description of the female who was trying to do this and they had a good description of the vehicle that they were in,” Foxhoven said, noting bank employees obtained an accurate description of the vehicle. “There is a lot of credit to go around from the bank employees and the other agencies.”
When bank employees reported a woman fitting the description of the suspect was in the building, officers said to stall her until they could arrive. Foxhoven said officers arrived on the scene shortly after the call.
“Once they identified her, they questioned her and started the investigation,” Foxhoven said. “Officers immediately started looking for the suspect vehicle.”
The van, a rental, was not located in St. Marys. St. Marys Police Sgt. Jake Sutton said counterfeiters typically use rental vehicles to help conceal their identities.
“It’s a way a lot of the counterfeiters are doing their schemes,” Sutton said. “The last three counterfeiters we had come through St. Marys used rentals.”
Through the investigation, officers identified 10 victims in five states — Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Connecticut and California. Foxhoven said investigators also identified three males who were allegedly working with Webster. Those three were detained in Bowling Green by the Bowling Green Police Department. Officers recovered more than $7,000 from the three.
“Once she was arrested, she was somewhat cooperative,” Foxhoven said. “She told us the people who had dropped her off had probably seen she was arrested and left the scene.”
Officers sent notification to surrounding agencies, including Bowling Green, to be on the lookout for the vehicle. Officers in Bowling Green found the vehicle and detained the three males.
“We had information that they were heading there,” Foxhoven said. “(Officers) executed a search warrant on their hotel and their van and there were some items of evidentiary value recovered.”
Foxhoven said similar frauds are becoming more common in the region.
“This is a perfect example of why people need to protect their information,” Foxhoven said. “That quickly they got 10 people from those 10 states and were somehow able to piece together enough information to get fake IDs in all these people’s names. It’s also important to check your accounts.”
The investigation into the three males is ongoing. Foxhoven said Webster has an extensive criminal record.
Foxhoven also praised the bank tellers as well as officers from Wapakoneta and Cridersville for their roles in the investigation.
“We give the bank tellers a lot of credit because she walked in with a large out-of-state check,” Foxhoven said. “Immediately that should be a red flag ... Our hats are off to the tellers.”
No other banks were targeted. Sutton said he believed the suspects were targeting only Chase Banks.
“There were ties to the males in Bowling Green,” Sutton said. “We believe they were using electronic devices to just target Chase Banks. From our information, they were only targeting Chase Banks at this point.”
Further prosecution in the case must be done in Common Pleas Court because the charges are felonies. A case can make it into Common Pleas Court following a preliminary hearing or through an indictment by a grand jury.
If convicted on the current charges, Webster faces a maximum of seven years in prison.