MIAMI (AP) – Venezuelans living in South Florida and Mexico stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in US government stimulus checks from people struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal officials say.
Jesus Felipe Linares Andrade, 34, was charged with conspiracy to steal government money and identity, the Miami Herald Reported.
Federal prosecutors said four other “co-conspirators,” originally from Venezuela, could be added to the indictment.
The indictment says Linares and unidentified co-conspirators are accused of stealing incentive checks and cashing them using “fraudulent” identification documents, the Herald reported.
Linares was arrested in May, pleaded not guilty, and is being held without bond. Defense attorney David Scott Marcus declined to comment on the newspaper on Tuesday.
The Herald reported that Linares interacted with two informers in an FBI undercover operation.
In January, an FBI informant met with one of four co-conspirators in a mall parking lot near Miami to discuss cashing about 30 Treasury checks totaling $36,000, the indictment said. The checks were each addressed to various US taxpayers with addresses in Mexico.
The newspaper reported that in April, Linares met with two FBI informants at another mall in the Miami area and discussed receiving UPS packages at a post office in Deerfield Beach. The package contained 416 checks worth approximately $249,000.
The affidavit said Linares arranged to pick up the package in mid-April and then put it in the trunk of a car driven by two informers. Later that month, Linares again spoke to informants about coordinating the receipt of approximately $34,476 in “fraudulent funds” from stimulus checks, as well as the delivery of an additional 226 Treasury checks of approximately $135,000.
Later in April, Linares again met with informers in Miami.
According to the affidavit, “During the meeting, Linares placed an envelope in the vehicle containing a stolen US Treasury check and more than 30 identification documents.” The documents included some copies of the driver’s license that matched the names on the check.
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