The Lee County Sheriff’s Office has arrested two people in connection with more than $170,000 worth of fraudulent checks cashed at Lee County banks.
Eric Speed, 28, is facing 19 charges of forgery and counterfeiting. Ariel Battles, 24, is facing 19 charges of passing a forged bank note and a grand larceny charge of more than $100,000.
Deputies say they were tipped off to the fraud by the Suncoast Credit Union after the bank received a complaint from a customer who said a check had been cashed in their name that they did not authorize.
The sheriff’s office says the bank investigated and discovered one of their bank tellers, Ariel Battles, had made several questionable transitions between $8,000 and $9,999. According to the arrest report, the bank’s policy allows checks below a certain threshold to be cashed without a supervisor’s approval.
Deputies say four local businesses’ accounts were being used to make the transactions, and then the bank’s money was used to reimburse those accounts.
The arrest report says a total of 19 checks were cashed between October 22, 2022, and December 2, 2022, by Battles for a total of $170,431.19. The bank fired Battles after their investigation.
Deputies spoke to Battles, who told them she was approached by Speed to assist him in cashing the checks after he learned she worked at the bank. Battles told deputies Speed offered her $2,000 for each check cashed.
Battles told deputies that she stopped helping Speed in December and said she believed there were other bank tellers helping Speed.
The arrest report did not mention if the sheriff’s office is investigating other bank tellers’ involvement but says they believe others are involved.
Based on Battles’ statements, investigators began looking into Speed. While searching his trash, they found a check with the name of one of the four businesses whose accounts were being used on the checks.
Deputies say the check they found in the trash was the same as one cashed at a Chase Bank on January 17.
During their surveillance of Speed, deputies learned that on January 30, his vehicle was spotted at Suncoast Credit Union while another fraudulent check was cashed.
The arrest report says the total amount of fraudulent losses they could attribute to Speed is $178,332.79.
The sheriff’s office then got a search warrant for Speed’s home. Inside, they found stacks of blank checks, several printers, check paper, $7,200 in cash, and checks made out in the names of the businesses whose accounts were identified as being used fraudulently. The search also found a credit card scanner and several credit cards, as well as four guns, one of which had been reported stolen.
Speed is being held without bond on a probation violation. Battles has been released on a $125,000 bond.