3 charged over scheme to deposit counterfeit checks in tax rebates

Three persons who are staying in Vancouver and Oregon were charged in federal court for engaging in a conspiracy to deposit counterfeit checks into their bank accounts over $24,000 in tax rebates from the CNMI.

An indictment charged Brooke K. Phillips, also known as Brookey Phillips; Kenatis M. Alafanso, also known as Nesdy; and Larry M. Tagabuel with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 13 counts of wire fraud.

Phillips and Alafanso are both residing in Vancouver, while Tagabuel is staying in Oregon.

Saipan Tribune learned that federal agents arrested the three defendants in the U.S. mainland last month, but the indictment, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the NMI last May 5, was only unsealed over the weekend.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Magistrate Judge Heather L. Kennedy last Wednesday appointed attorneys Mark Hanson, Steven Pixley, and David Banes as counsel for Phillips, Alafanso, and Tagabuel, respectively.

According to the indictment, sometime in 2015, Tagabuel received a CNMI tax rebate check for the 2014 tax year. The CNMI tax rebate check was mailed from Saipan to Tagabuel in Oregon.

Using a high-resolution scanner, an unnamed co-conspirator scanned a copy of the CNMI tax rebate check and used the image to create counterfeit checks. Each counterfeit check was printed to resemble a legitimate CNMI tax check.

Each counterfeit check had a legitimate routing number, which was assigned to the CNMI government. Various counterfeit checks were printed and made payable to the three defendants, and others.

To further the scheme, the defendants opened individual checking accounts at various banks, including U.S. Bank and Bank of America.

The defendants would deposit the counterfeit checks purporting to be tax rebate checks from the CNMI into their bank accounts. They would wait for the counterfeit checks to clear their bank account.

After the checks cleared their account and the funds were made available, each defendant would make large cash withdrawals from various ATM and branch locations in and around Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.

The defendants would share the profits obtained from their scheme with an unnamed co-conspirator in exchange for producing the fraudulent checks.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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